We’ve all done it. We have all had the experience of sitting in a mind-numbingly boring maths classroom and asking ourselves what is the point in all these maths problems, when will we ever have to use them in the real world? At school I was never a great fan of mathematics. I never understood what it was all about, and to some degree I still don’t really understand why we have to study it. Now that I find myself tutoring maths to another generation of Ireland’s youth I am asked the same question every year by students who themselves don’t quite understand why it is that they have to know differential calculus and trigonometry. It’s not the complete answer, but I think that I can now answer part of the why. Other than teaching young people the skills they need to help them use their minds for abstract and complex reasoning, young folk – especially those with whom I work – are the next generation in the class struggle of which we are all a part. Education has always been one of the weapons that have been used against us to keep the privileged in their place and us in ours.
Examination results play a huge part in determining the future, income, and the security of each new generation of students as they complete their secondary school education and continue on to third level or out into their working lives. Even when working class students do very well in their secondary mathematics examinations they still lag behind the achievements of their wealthier peers who did less well in their exams. Typically they do not earn as much in later life. No matter how much middle class teachers tell working class students that they must do well at school to do well in life, we eventually all come to the troubling realisation that we do not live in a meritocracy. Privilege will always look after privilege, and this will always be at the cost of working class effort and brilliance. Knowing this injustice does not mean that learning and education are pointless. They are tools, and they are the tools that we must use to address this inequality. Education, along with the continuation of the class war, help to even the score – these are two sides of the same coin.