Sunday, October 25, 2020

Nothing I learnt in school mathematics after the age of 12 has been of use to me since

It's fashionable at the moment to pile on to Ben Bradley, the Conservative MP for Mansfield, and I see no reason to discourage this.

So here's one tweet Bradley has not deleted:

Bradley is talking nonsense because this measure of poverty is based upon median income not mean income, and he appears not to understand the difference. 

I do understand it because, before we moved to Leicestershire when I was 13, I went to secondary school in Hertfordshire. There we studied studied mathematics using textbooks produced by the School Mathematics Project.

These made the subject interesting and turned out to be useful. We learnt some basic statistics, notably the concepts of mean, median and mode.

If I had stayed with SMP I would soon have been learning about computer programming, but in Leicestershire maths was very different.

We were offered an old-fashioned diet of arithmetic, trigonometry and algebra. It was dull beyond endurance and nothing I learnt in maths in the next four years has ever been of use to me since. I did get an O level, but was delighted to give the subject up at 16.

You may say I was strictly on the arts side after that, but I turned out to be good at formal logic at university. I found that Venn diagrams could be used to test the validity of syllogisms - and I had learnt about Venn diagrams in primary school.

So when I saw this exchange the other day (and thanks to the reader who helped me find it again) I almost cheered.
No doubt a lot has changed since my schooldays. But, judging by this and Mr Bradley, not enough.


A Rambling Ducky said...

Bradley has a degree in Politics, apparently achievable without any knowledge of statistics.

Having dropped out twice before getting that one the mode of his university achievement is to leave without taking a degree.

In my more cynical moments I think that maybe the country would benefit from banning anyone with a Politics or PPE degree from elected office.

Anonymous said...

I do think some understanding of basic statistics is essential to enable people in elected office who have to make decisions involving evaluating numbers. Especially that point about the difference between mean and median.

Bradley's degree (according to Wiki) was a 1st from Nottingham Trent - wonder how really difficult that is....

Neville Farmer said...

He was lucky to get a first, imagine his difficulty understanding any higher number?

Unknown said...

Perhaps some mandatory basic training and refreshers for all elected MPs. We could call it Continuous Professional Development (and extend it to at least upper-tier councillors)

Jacques René Giguère said...

Refresher for MPs? Forty years ago(we were soldiers once and young...), I was a young economic counsellor at the Québec National Assembly in Canada and was tasked to give such refresher to newly elected MNAs. I had barely begun nwhen the most senior of the group (Oxford and Harvard MBA), rose up , exclaimed: "A deficit is a deficit isn'tit ?" and left the room.Then the member from the poorest riding (a small time housebuilder) said :"I am a businessman and I know economic", left followed by the others. Even the whip was not powerful enough to make them learn anything.

Anonymous said...

A typical Irish education up to school leaving age includes probability & statitistics in additional to arithmetic, trig, algebra, etc.

And I don't believe we are some exceptional outlier.

Why would one have to choose between these basic topics?

Whilst I find it difficult to believe that you have never referred back to any arithmetic, trig, algebra subsequently that is slightly aside from the point. I haven't been required to understand formation of ox-bow lakes, to know about the diurnal activities of medieval monks but I don't regret learning these things...

Jonathan Calder said...

Anonymous: I have certainly used lots of arithmetic, but I was sharp at that before I got to secondary school.