Papert on Maths: Why ‘no good’ is no good


Seeking to clarify my thoughts on why digital making is important, I’ve been re-reading Papert‘s seminal ‘Mindstorms‘. I came across this cautionary tale that made me reflect on every teacher who I have ever heard say they are ‘no good at maths’.

Difficulty with school math is often the first step of an invasive intellectual process that leads us all to define ourselves as bundles of aptitudes and ineptitudes, as being “mathematical” or “not mathematical,” “artistic” or “not artistic,” “musical” or “not musical,” “profound” or “superficial,” “in­telligent” or “dumb.” Thus deficiency becomes identity and learning is transformed from the early child’s free exploration of the world to a chore beset by insecurities and self-imposed restrictions.
– Seymour Papert – Mindstorms

Deficiency becomes identity.

Particularly in primary school, the identity of teachers can often have a significant effect on the identity of learners. One might say that it is really important to be good at maths while confessing that one is ‘no good’. Which is the more powerful message, what we say or what we do?

“Children are educated by what the grown up is and not by his talk.
Carl Jung

It might be our identity, but better to change our minds, or at the very least hold our tongues, before it becomes theirs too. Better still, how do we present learning in such a way that proficiency, rather than ineptitude, becomes identity? The answer, I think, is somewhere in a reflection of what our own identities are in relation to this learning, and the resolution to do what it takes to make them what they need to be.
Photo Credit: eriwst via Compfight cc

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