Bonus points for maths
Madam, – The recent decision to award bonus points to students achieving higher than a D1 in Leaving Certificate honours maths seems to me discriminatory against other forms of “knowledge”. Of course the underlying aim of this decision is to stimulate the “knowledge economy” – an idea many have voiced to be the new way forward for Ireland. But in mathematics we have only identified one small part of the whole.
This whole represents philosophy, an intellectual discipline and a way of life. One important aspect of this way of life is to train the human mind in deep critical thought. Philosophy relates to the same part of the mind as mathematics. This is why many of the most celebrated mathematicians of our time were also acclaimed philosophers (by way of being). Think of Descartes, Newton, Leibniz and Russell.
We should ask ourselves why maths is so valued and then pose the familiar question all maths teachers wish to avoid: “Does mathematics have any practical use?” Mathematics teaches one to think critically in an abstract sense.
Philosophy, on the other hand, goes further, allowing one to think critically, but in a practical sense – as it is concerned with the foundations of how society is ordered and how life is lived – morality, religion, politics, language, knowledge, etc. Maths is really the “philosophy of numbers” (simple evaluations of the mind). In other words it is only one branch of the tree; a tree also including disciplines such as natural science and history, where intellectual, cultural and economic development occurs through challenge, rather than obedience. All of these disciplines have proved this. But where are the bonus points for history or science, or more severely, where is the tree itself?
The absence of philosophy in the secondary education curriculum is worrying, if not threatening to this country’s goal of being an environment breeding knowledge and ideas for life.
The true job of philosophy and of all its branches is to question; to analyse; to question further; to discuss; and finally to progress. More is required than the mere introduction of points for Leaving Certificate mathematics. I am sure Berkeley, Burke, Swift, et al, would agree. – Yours, etc,