Why You Might Need Maths

‘Why you might need maths’ was published in The Strathclyde Telegraph, February 2015


“Maths? Miss, I want to be a writer. I won’t need maths… No, I won’t change my mind- MISS, UNTICK THAT HIGHER MATHS BOX.”

I remember the struggle – the trauma, the ignorance, the resentment – of ‘the subjects meeting’. Sigh. Before me is my guidance teacher; this would be the first and only duty she fulfils all year. To my left is my mother: polite smile switched to manual. Both are about to try and convince the other that they know better what’s best for my future. But here’s the thing… only one of us has a pen. And for some mildly terrifying and unjustifiable reason, it isn’t me.

Since the very first story I wrote – ‘The Dolphin of Love’ by Rachael Procter, aged 6; reviewed by Rosie the teddy bear – I knew I wanted to make stapled bundles of adventure for the rest of my existence. So, why did I have to convince any part-time guidance teacher of that to make it happen?

The problem with society’s outlook nowadays is that they press down so hard on this notion of “you never know when you might need…” during education that there is simply not enough room left to let children harvest their passions and nurture them as they complete their school years.

Before becoming an English Literature student, my conditional offer stated that I must attain an A in Advanced Higher Music, an A in Int 2 Mathematics and a B in ‘any other subject’ – much to the delight of my ‘tick-happy’ guidance teacher. It is in hindsight that I realise how difficult the education system made following my dream sometimes. I was being asked to excel in areas of education that did not come naturally to me under the caution that I might need those skills for a job in the future. Instead of cherry-picking out the passionate students and building an environment with us in which we could thrive towards our goals and succeed, the educational system catered for the ‘what if it doesn’t work out?’ approach.

Oblivious to the intentions of the system, I was already doubting my career choice before I left school. I was being smothered with negative thoughts. Wounded, I wondered if anyone understood that I wanted job satisfaction more than money, but the fact that some people struggled to accept this was actually more a reflection of their own defeatist attitude than my own. After all, teenage me didn’t need money. I needed recognition and book sales and coffees bought for me at book signings.

But here comes the inevitable grey bit: we need to survive. When the costs of “existing” are as unattainable as they are today, our ambitions are constantly being interrupted by the unavoidable fact that we’re going to need to clothe and feed ourselves, and find somewhere warm to sleep on our own pretty soon. And with all of this still orbiting around the youth today, they should be forgiven for forgetting they ever had dreams at all.

Unfortunately, this article does not answer your question about precisely why you’ll need standard deviation out with the Standard Grade maths classroom. However, what I hope to have conveyed here is that not everyone is going to understand what direction you’re heading in, and if anything, it’s probably a good thing that they won’t be there for the ride. If you know in your heart that you want to teach English to pupils in Malawi or decode the Periodic Table of Elements for the good of mankind, then there’s nothing out there that can stop you achieving it that isn’t already inside of you.

Student advisors are there to support your ‘plan B’ when it all goes wrong – but who’s to say it ever will?

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