It is axiomatic that it is important for our school students to be mathematically literate; to be numerate. But that axiom needs some closer study. There’s an assumption there that needs examination, possibly for the first time since Pythagorean geometry was state of the art.
This isn’t just my idea. I was at a meeting of volunteers on the Computing At School project. I had a conversation with a professor of mathematics that crystallised my thoughts. Let’s drop mathematics from the school curriculum!
The axiom that privileges mathematics equates mathematics and numeracy, and it’s a false equivalence. Numeracy requires the ability to spot an arithmetic error in a supermarket bill. Numeracy does not require an understanding of trigonometry. Numeracy is important, mathematics is not in and of itself important.
The apparent importance of mathematics dates from the time when the mark of a gentleman was his ability to read Homer in the original language. Mathematics in schools doesn’t seem to have progressed much since the 18th century.
My idea is that at that time mathematics was the only tool for taking observations about the physical realm and taking them into the abstract realm. In the abstract realm concepts can be transformed in various ways, then mathematics handles the conversion of the transformed concepts back into the physical realm. That’s important but three centuries later we can do that same job better.