Suppressing minds through the means of education…

Posted by Marcus on Feb 7, 2016

I have to say that, in my opinion, this week’s task was by far one of the most enjoyable and thought provoking tasks that we have come across in this module so far. In a TED talk by Ken Robinson, the importance of creativity is discussed; which ties in nicely with the ideas presented by Paul Lockhart in his article ‘A mathematicians Lament’.

The comparisons made between mathematics and subjects that are generally considered as more creative are really thought provoking. Lockhart talks about killing enthusiasm in a subject by making it mandatory and I can totally see where he is coming from. He talks about how the subjects of art and music would be regarded in the same light as mathematics if they were to be made mandatory. In reality though, students get to choose whether they study art or music, they get the chance to be creative and explore the subject in their own way whilst being given the chance to express themselves. Would a student’s view of mathematics dramatically change if it became a subject of choice, as opposed to something we say is compulsory? Robinson states that “public school was invented to meet the needs of industrialism” which is true, but industry has changed dramatically since! I think that Robinson talks a lot of sense when he says that we need to “rethink the fundamental principles” – society has evolved and I think that it’s time that our view on education evolved too!

So why isn’t mathematics considered as a creative subject within education? Perhaps too much importance has been attached to it, from my experience within education I have found that one of the most asked questions is ‘But, when will I even use this?’ and I have to say that sometimes I don’t have an answer. Some of the maths that we present to young people is not relevant to all of them. Some of them will even go on to get jobs where they will use very little maths and this is something that we should be mindful of. Maybe teachers of mathematics need to be given the freedom to be able to teach mathematics with more of a creative vision? The constraints inflicted upon the education of mathematics by the national curriculum means that we have little choice but to revert to reducing the subject to “a sterile set of facts” and making students think that “mathematics is about formulas and definitions”, as its described by Lockhart.

I guess what I’m most confused about now is whether we should be making mathematics a mandatory subject within our curriculum? Who are we to be telling young people what they should and shouldn’t be good at in order to make something of their lives? Robinson makes a really interesting point when he says that no one knows what the world will be like in 5 years’ time, and he’s right – How can we possibly know that we are preparing our young people in the correct way! At the end of the day, the people we educate will be responsible for making the future, it’s our job to inspire them, not suppress them!


  1. Dom
    7 February 2016

    Marcus, I agree with you. It was one of the most enjoyable task. I guess from a government point of view, the way we teach mathematics is the most cost effective as long as it is conceived as a very important subject. Maybe we should change the aims of education, making people happier rather than more employable?

  2. pepsmccrea
    8 February 2016

    Lovely set of reflections here. However, lots of questions to be asked:
    – can you be creative without ‘facts’
    – should people be allowed to choose to study maths or not?

    Push yourself to identify some trickier questions in future thinkpieces.

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