The noble art of self-defence

I’ve never used any of that trigonometry we had to learn in school – what was the point in learning it, when we could have been taught something useful?” This question, and questions like it, are put to all of us who work in education from time to time. And, all too often, we undermine the true worth of what we do by framing our answer in the values of the question.

If there is a battle to be fought here, then we have already lost it if we allow ourselves to be drawn into fighting it on the questioner’s terms. It doesn’t matter how confidently we retort, “Well, if you were to find yourself a known distance from a building you need to calculate the height of…”

Quite understandably, this contrived approach to justifying a mathematical education by imagining increasingly surreal scenarios into which we can crowbar bits of the curriculum does not persuade anybody. And nor

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