Wood you please - Chapter Four

Chapter 5 – The Badge of [Dis]honour Anomaly

28th February 2018

So, I've just returned from India after a lovely trip which included a family wedding, a brief sojourn to Amritsar and delivering some toys. More on Amritsar in a subsequent blog; today's thought-piece came to me as I was measuring some wood for a plant stand. As I was completing the mental arithmetic and applying my knowledge of scale I remembered what I have told so many: mathematics is a subject that needs to be experienced. It needs to become second nature and applied in real-life situations. It needs to be concrete before it is ever abstract.

In a previous life as a Head Teacher, teacher, consultant blah blah blah I met all sorts of people: those who are rude, those who are angry, those who are sad and most pertinent of all: those who are ashamed.

Sometime in the Academic Year XYZ [dates obliterated to protect the innocent)

A man [Mr Parent] knocks on my study door; he blushes and asks if he can have a word.

He wants to tell me why he can’t help his son with his reading homework [he’s just had a minor bollocking from his son’s class teacher].

“Erm, well…it’s just that…”

I scream silently -I’m busy and I just don’t have the time.

“…I can’t read.”

Mr Parent  gives me a hunted look and looks down at his shoes.

Suddenly, I have all the time in the world.

28th February 2018

According to Stephen Fry libraries are sensual places: brimming with possibilities – new thoughts, new ideas, new beginnings and for me a new dawn. I suppose when one career comes to an end, unless said career has provided with bounty beyond measure, a new one must beckon and the library is the start of many such careers. I’ve spent many weeks at the British Library and it's a simply marvellous place…

I suppose my love affair with books started when I was two; I’ve been told the only way to keep me quiet was to have a story read to me – from my busy parents’ perspective this meant that I needed to learn to read quickly. As soon as I was able to, I would spend hours and hours reading, reading, reading: anything, posters, beermats, books magazines, toilet walls – anything.

Reading opens the mind; it challenges ideas, reaffirms concepts and most of all it is fun. I’ve always shared my passion for books with the children I have taught and one of my greatest pleasures was teaching a child to read. In fact, although I would not  go as far as saying that teaching English was my favourite;  I knew, with unswerving faith, that it was the passport to success. The subject I probably disliked teaching the most was maths – not because I found it dull [I actually find it very interesting and in some perverse way aesthetically quite pleasing] – but I found it difficult to teach – I just didn’t get why some children found it hard. I found it galling, frustrating, irritating, exasperating, infuriating and other things ending with –ing, all because I was unable to put myself in the pupils'  shoes and walk around in them, because I was unable to fathom why they were at a complete loss. I would make every effort to be kind and calm and understanding whilst my inner quiet was taking a pounding: sometimes more successfully than others [to my eternal shame].

Children are easily embarrassed, easily humiliated and very easily bullied into giving up on something, so I can understand why there are so many innumerate people out there, but what I don’t get is why being innumerate is almost a badge of honour. I’ve been at dinner parties where attendees have talked openly and unashamedly about their inability to count, add, subtract, do long multiplication etc., but I have never been at one where someone has proudly proclaimed they can’t read. These are all well-educated, prosperous and successful people who should know better. So the question I ask myself is, 'Why do people think it's ok to be crap at maths?' Don't be.  Maths is great. If you need some help, ask a friend, ask a colleague or if that's too embarrassing, ask me…