Why I don’t talk about Maths anymore.

Patrick Shine is one of the Directors of FranchisingWorks, and has wrote this from his blog, its a very interesting read.

I am very good at maths. I did A-levels and degree in maths. I loved it and it led to my early successes in the world of finance and markets.

In that journey, I learnt two things. The first is that maths leans heavily towards men, not woman. The second, which is not unrelated, is mathematicians tend to form an echo chamber. This leads to poor socialisation, poor insight, and genuine lack of comprehension of those who don’t like maths, who struggle with maths, who have a phobia towards
maths. In my later life, I’ve become fascinated to understand why that is, and how to respond constructively.

Recently our employability and self-employment social enterprise, FranchisingWorks, took on a contract to teach numeracy to adults. Numeracy is essential to anybody running their own business. But many people who are psychologically perfect for running their own business have a legacy of maths phobia. So, at FranchisingWorks we’ve become skilful over the years at helping people overcome that phobia. It is amazing how many people enjoy figuring out how to price the goods and services, and while less fun, they understand that business survival budgets are absolutely necessary.

With this approach of reframing and creating learning environments radically different from traditional school environments, we are enjoying working with our Merseyside partners to help people for whom the cost-of-living crisis has exposed their vulnerability to lack of number skills.

And as we have been engaging with people who live in our neighbourhoods, we have seen people physically shaking with fear when the word ‘mathematics’ is voiced. It’s beyond this brief article to discuss why that is, but we know it we see it and we care. Which is why we don’t talk about mathematics. We don’t talk about the abstract, the academic, and we focus in on the benefits that number skills bring. This is marketing 101: sell benefits, not features.

Digging deeper, I think one of the problems is that all of us who deal with finance and numbers is how we can lose sight of the real world. By definition, Mathematics is about abstraction, reducing the real world to numbers and symbols and then using unbelievably powerful tools to understand better how the world works. But we are not so good at communicating that understanding in ways that others can grasp; and sometimes we are our worst enemies.

Oscar Wilde said: ‘the definition of a cynic of someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’. Right now, the battles over pay levels in public services seem to reflect that tension. As a country, we won’t allow NHS managers and the government to reduce professions such as nursing just to numbers.

The best teachers know their pupils by name not numbers.