Maths sucks

4 minute read

I can really see Russell Tovey’s point in his interview with Alexandra Pollard of The Independent. Subjects such as Drama and Art have been has-beens since I was at school in the 80s.

Interview with Russell Tovey
“That is something we have to fight for more than anything else. I say get rid of f***ing maths. I hate maths. And you can quote me on that.”

Quoth the Tovey: I hate maths

I think a lot of people agree with the sentiment, and Mr. Tovey is not the first to make this point. I once spent an entertaining 10 minutes explaining that the entirety of human civilization, from GPS on phones to cars to tall buildings relied on mathematics and I think the group of 20 or so people were getting it in the end.

Being a writer, I can understand the attraction of creative arts, they’re interesting and expressive, kind of the polar opposite of the soulless texts of abstract mathematical concepts.

Back when I was at school, I remember trying to find an actual point to the mathematics we were learning in classes from year 7 to 12 where I ditched it finally to concentrate on other subjects I did understand, if only marginally better.

But there are two problems that I can see with the idea of ditching mathematics, however attractive it may seem.

First, you create the same problem on the other side of the fence. Pretty soon you’ll have scientists and mathematicians talking about ditching Drama and Art because it’s F&#king boring.

Second, it’s a zero-sum argument, a Winners versus Losers where there’s only space for one set of subjects in the school curriculum and that’s it.

An alternative which I think will make people happier is to give equal footing to both. Maths is just as important as Drama and art. Why? Because while Maths when used for good can help you understand society and the world, Drama helps you understand yourself. Or think of it like this: Maths is what keeps your house standing. Drama and Art and creativity keeps your sanity standing.

However, to give equal footing you need to also change the ideas of what is valid and important to society. You need to convince the administrators, the businesses, the bureaucrats and the politicians. It is they who have created this problem, emphasising subjects which allegedly create job opportunities and build businesses, but at their core – as Douglas Adams once opined – largely concern the movements of small green pieces of paper.

It’s all about the money

To put it succinctly: it’s all about the money. How much you as a spotty nosed post teenager can start making to justify your existence, versus what it costs you mentally to have to ditch the creative pursuits you love.

The world’s mental health issues haven’t just popped out of nowhere; they’re a direct result of a money-first mindset, the idea that you must never be a drain on society, you must always Pay Your Way. We can see a concrete example of one extreme of this mindset by looking at the United States, where people work several jobs just to get by, there’s no public healthcare to speak of and being unemployed means living in your car (if you’re lucky) or the street, then in a ditch, then in an early grave.

We may joke about parents wanting their kids to be Doctors or Lawyers, but it’s the very same mindset. Doctors and Lawyers allegedly make mondo lucre, and have jobs for life. Not so the struggling artist daubing paint on canvas, hoping to be noticed by someone with deep pockets (or indeed scribblers like myself posting thoughts into the vast emptiness of The Interweb).

But putting aside arguments for revolution and putting me in charge of all the levers of industry, here’s the problems we face to balance Creative skills against the ones that allegedly make money.

We can start by saying there’s an atonishing amount of inertia in our society, which makes it very hard to change direction. Inertia being a mathematical concept that describes an object in motion travelling in a straight line, which is resistant to changes to its speed or direction.

My brother once fell victim to a misunderstanding of inertia when we were kids. He started on a cart at the top of a hill and then someone stepped out of an alleyway in front of him near the bottom. He did not manage to stop or change direction in time. However, the injuries were minor, and we all learned something that day: Brakes are good.

Back to society then.

It’s been over 100 years since women got the vote, and they’re STILL not paid the same for identical work.

Fifty years ago, Indigenous Australians were finally accepted as Human Beings (not “Flora and Fauna”) in the Australian Constitution, and they’ve still got a high mortality rate in childbirth and life expectancy, and still experience the most appalling racism today in 2020.

So pulling education apart and putting it back together so everyone gets a fair bite of the apple is going to be very, very hard.

But that said, nothing worthwhile was ever easy.