Let’s start a revolution?

Posted by Senay on Jan 31, 2016

Lockhart’s ideas about mathematics and mathematics education are on the one hand very idealistic and on the other hand offer many practical suggestions about how both could be improved. It is clear that maths is not taught in the way he envisages and has not been in many societies for a very long time. His ideas about a return to pure maths reminded me of the comparisons made previously between the US and Japanese approach to maths classes. In the Japanese model there is far more problem solving and far less spoon feeding of answers. My own school experiences of learning maths largely fell into the latter category. The idea that creativity should be central to maths learning is continued and developed by Sir Ken Robinson. His Shakespeare example in particular was very thought provoking (I wonder what our modern education system would have made of such a creative brain?). I wonder how many young minds are educated into submission and conformity by our modern system of education? Lockhart’s critique of the modern maths curriculum is very well argued, but I am not sure his remarks about the pointlessness of teaching training are fair. There are clearly lots of things to learn that will improve your ability to teach and get the most out of students.

It is hard to marry the concept of freedom and creativity in the classroom with the process of quantifying achievement and translating this into a result which can be taken away and allow the market place and employers to judge who would make a good employee. The realities of our market economy and emphasis on profit mean that employers need to ascertain quickly the level of a candidate and offer them a job so that they add value to the business in question. I cannot see how creativity could be quantified or examined easily (or at least the examination process would have to become much more subjective – with the teacher’s opinion on a student being given more weight). It is simpler to have students solve problems and see how many they get right and quantify the result they achieve. The irony is that in trying to service the economy and the market in this way, we are in fact destroying the creativity that will actually make a difference and achieve real progress and innovation.

One thing that I am finding difficult to get my head around: we are being filled with idealism and lots of very logical ideas about how maths education can be made more progressive and modern, but when we get into the education system how much opportunity will we have to actually apply these ideas? I know that many young teachers are frustrated when they enter the profession and I wonder whether the reason is that teacher training courses fill us with idealism that we later cannot express (because of the shackles placed upon us by curriculum and the examination system). Are we being trained to be revolutionaries in a system that does not want to change?


  1. Glen
    1 February 2016

    A really nice think piece Senay! I love the comparison to your own education, and I love the questions you put forward from the source material. A question for you though, do you feel that the shackles of the incumbent education system has really stopped a teachers ability to be creative, or is it we were taught not to be creative from an early age?

    • Senay
      15 February 2016

      Thanks for the question Glen. I think I am tending towards the former but my ideas are changing with each passing week. It is of course possible and necessary to be creative but always with one eye on the curriculum and one eye on getting students through exams.

  2. pepsmccrea
    8 February 2016

    As Glen says: great thinkpiece. You’re really grappling with the tensions between the ideas explored and the realities of our society/economy. And I like the idea of you being revolutionaries… BUT remember that I’m not advocating any of these ideas, just showing them to you and getting you to think about them.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.