Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Maths isn't easy

Maths textbooks have been withdrawn after a ton of mistakes were found.

I have two comments to make on this.

First, you won't find anything like this in history or english literature textbooks. That's because in maths, an answer is usually right or wrong, and it's easy to tell the difference. In history, if you were asked what is 2+2, you could launch into a major essay about the post-modern interpretation of whatever, or the precise meaning of "+" in the age of diversity. In maths, any answer but "4" is wrong.

That's one of the reasons why maths isn't easy, but at the same time, we need to encourage good mathematicians. Why? Because a good mathematician can turn their hand to pretty much anything, but a poor mathematician is forever barred to anything involving computation. One of my pet hates is people saying "I'm not good at maths", (meaning, no good at simple arithmetic, because such people are ignorant of the joy of calculus) said with a light laugh, as if this isn't something to be deeply ashamed of.
When I was at school, maths was rated at about three times the importance of any other subject. You could see this in the number of hours devoted to it in the syllabus, and in the number of O and A levels you could get (I got three A levels in maths alone, plus one in physics which is mostly maths). But now?

My second comment is on proof reading.

Proof reading is *expensive*. You have to hire an actual person who actually comprehends what they are reading. So many books I read today are riddled with errors, and you can see that a spell checker has been run over the text (albeit imperfectly, there's still a few spelling errors) but riddled with homonym mistakes. And my guess is that these textbooks weren't proofread.

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