Surely kids need to be forced to learn maths?

“Surely kids need to be forced to learn maths? Who would learn maths voluntarily??”

“Even Bryan Caplan, who homeschools his kids, says that kids will not learn the math they need for many jobs unless they are forced to. How do you respond?”

Let’s look at what Bryan Caplan says:

“Won’t kids who would greatly benefit from math choose to learn math given the freedom to do so? The answer, I fear, is: Rarely. For two reasons:
           First, math is extremely unfun for almost everyone. Only a handful of nerds sincerely finds the subject engaging. I’m a big nerd, and I’ve done piles of math, yet I’ve never really liked it.
           Second, math is highly cumulative. Each major stage of math builds on the foundation of the previous stages. If you reach adulthood and then decide to learn math to pursue a newly-discovered ambition, I wish you good luck, because you’ll need it.”

Very few people nowadays actually need maths. Especially now that there are calculating apps and mathematical apps. If you reach adulthood and decide you want to become a doctor, judging from what I have heard about how tough medical school and junior doctor training is, learning the maths will be a piece of cake compared to what you will experience on your journey to become a doctor, and it is not even true that it is difficult to learn maths when you decide to do so to pursue a particular educational path.

Note that the world the so-called ‘experts’ are advising parents to prepare their children for is not the world that their children will be living in, but a very different one, because things are progressing all the time. Home computers only really got started after I left university. The internet did not happen for nearly another decade after that. When I was at school, we were beaten with implements regularly, and subjected to all manner of things that are now illegal. Things are changing massively and very fast in many ways.

It is also not true that maths is boring at the beginning and only becomes interesting later. If that were the case, then no one would ever have discovered all the mathematics that has been discovered, because it could not have been being forced on children before it had been discovered. Each bit of maths was formed by somebody who had not been taught it but who did it purely because it was interesting. And if it’s only a few people who are interested in maths in that sense, then it’s only those people for whom it is beneficial.

Those people are learning it because it is beneficial to them already when they are children, and in that case they are not learning it because it will be useful later, they are learning it because it is useful to them now. And if it isn’t useful to them now, then it’s not true that they cannot learn it later.

Bryan Caplan getting on his high horse and saying “I wish you good luck” when actually he is wishing us bad luck, is an authoritarian stance. Libertarian readers might like to read the transcript of a talk I gave at the World Libertarian Conference: Taking Children Seriously: The final phase of the Enlightenment

But for the most devastating argument against subjecting our children to maths (or any other) lessons, and indeed, against giving our children any unwanted information at all, be sure to read David Deutsch’s brilliant article: In praise of ignorance, and Lulie Tanett’s brilliant article, Criticism scheduling and privacy.

See also:

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, Taking Children Seriously FAQ: ‘Surely kids need to be forced to learn maths?’,

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