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Why must everyone be forced to do maths?

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Peter Onesta, Johannesburg

At the University of the Witwatersrand, I met a Catholic priest who was doing a BSc in order to teach at St Benedict’s Boys School (in Bedfordview). He told me to get Silvanus Thompson’s Calculus Made Easy, with Thompson’s motto, “What one fool can do another can!” Also, a beautifully written text by W. Briggs and G Bryan: The Right Line and Cycle (on co-ordinate geometry). These saved many a student’s bacon, and spurred my own interest in mathematical logic, which ties philosophy to language.

Why must everyone be forced to do maths? There is a good discussion of this in New Directions in Mathematics. Professor Kopenhauer quotes CP Snow who says that some people are “mathematically blind”. In response, Professor Besicovitch says, “The majority are.” At least half the children shouldn’t be taught beyond simple counting, to count change and so on, he said. Besicovitch was “musically blind”, and his music teacher spared him the misery of singing. 

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