Sunday, November 14, 2004

Poking fun at politicians

This link from the BBC tells how the Georgian political establishment is upset over a maths book that pokes fun at some rather amusing incidents in their parliament. Thankfully, the education ministry is not going as far as actually banning the book, although they are showing themselves to be somewhat unhumorous by declaring it to be educationally unsuitable.

However, I think the person in charge of the national curriculum is missing the point somewhat when he declares "I don't think anyone would really meet a situation like they have to calculate the time when the leg of the table will be sawn off." Oh really? Well I don't recall ever sitting down and working out exactly how long it would take for a bath to empty if I had the taps running at a certain rate but the plug out, but I had to calculate it in maths lessons. I don't recall ever being particularly interested in the mechanics of how a see-saw worked, but I was asked about that at A-Level. The whole point of the exercises in maths textbooks is that they provide means through which people can test out the skills that they learn.

And from my recollection of the maths that I did learn, most of these textbooks are resoundingly boring. Just page after page of symbols and meaningless questions that most of the time appeared highly irrelevant. Now, I still enjoyed Maths, but I think that is largely because a) I am a nerd and b) I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of working out a problem to its unarguable solution. There will, however, be hundreds of thousands of children who would not be intellectually stimulated by those pages of questions. So, my point is brief but simple. If, by poking fun at yourself, you can get the attention of the children who need these mathematical skills, then it is more than worth it. They may represent "unrealistic" situations, but it is more essential that they take an interest in their learning.