New Education Secretary, Michael Gove on Maths

The new Education Secretary does not look like this.

The new Education Secretary looks like this.

Note to self – next time the country gets caught up in coalition arranging shenanigans, don’t go profiling the new Education Secretary until it’s officially officially confirmed exactly who it actually is. Damn you, Sky News!

Was it the tone of our earlier (now hastily deleted) post that ousted David Laws from contention at the last minute? Who knows, and er, oops, sorry if so, but anyhow it’s  Michael Gove we’re dealing with now.

If you’ve not heard it before, here’s Mr Gove’s take on what should be done with Maths, in a speech he gave waaaaaaay back in the old days – over two whole months ago.  Whether his ideas survive the trauma of hung-parliamentitis, we’ll find out over the next few weeks.

The most influential language on earth is not English, or Mandarin but maths. Mathematics is the means by which we make sense not just of the natural world around us but also lay the ground for discoveries yet to come.

The Pythagorean revolution was prelude to the astonishing flowering of classical philosophy which laid the foundations of the Western world. Galileo recognised that it was through mastery of mathematics that the music of the spheres could be heard by man, and the shape of the earth made real. The thrilling breakthroughs he and his contemporaries made helped mankind move from an age of superstition to the rule of reason.

The Enlightenment, mankind’s great period of intellectual flowering, the liberation from ignorance on which our current freedoms rest, was made possible by the work of mathematicians like Leibniz and Newton.

Gauss, the prince of mathematicians, called maths ‘the queen of the sciences.’ Why? Because of what Wigner famously called ‘the unreasonable effectiveness of maths’ – the miracle whereby pure maths can, sometimes centuries later, find practical applications never originally dreamed of, and the way in which a mathematical formulation of a physical principle leads to extraordinarily precise descriptions and predictions.


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