I made a decision the other day. A decision that says “I was wrong. Fuck. I guess I should fix it.” A decision I long to rebel against in the eternal hope that it’s stupid and false and silly.
I’ve held a certain view for years. A belief more than a view, really. It was quite a simple one. I believed that education was about learning. That it mattered more what you understood than what courses you’d done.
Unfortunately, I was wrong: Education is simply a bragging right. A certificate stating “I can do [subject]” is more valuable than actually being able to do [subject]. Apparently, this is because the said certificate “proves” you can do [subject].
I would accept this view if it were true. Unfortunately, I’m one of those idiots who chose to study pure maths. As there are a reducingly limited number of us (natural selection doesn’t favour those stuck behind whiteboards exploring patterns nobody else can see), there are – consequently – a reducingly limited number of pure math courses to choose from.
The overall result of this is fairly straightforward: in order to prove that I can do pure mathematics, I need a degree in pure mathematics. There are not enough pure math courses to satisfy the conditions of a degree. Therefore, I must take courses that have fuck all to do with pure maths to satisfy my degree conditions. Therefore, to prove I can do pure maths, I must not do pure maths.
Sounds like a driving test really.
Let’s change gear.
Being a student of a “world-class” university, I expect that the courses on offer would be intriguing. Perhaps I’ll find a “Sexuality 123: The ABC of loving yourself.” or “Psychology 248: Stress, its implications and the importance of breathing.”. Ah, but I forget: university is a stepping stone to a job. So I expect to see “Web design 125: The importance of your online profile.” or “Business Management 101: How to start a business sans capital.”. No? How’s about “Accounting 100: Personal finances and surviving debt”? Or “Law 110: Your rights and obligations as an employee”? Or, please!, “Tax 199: What the fuck is an ACC levy and why do I have to pay it?”
Sadly, no. Universities provide only one thing of value: the certificate.
So I lowered my sights. My requirements were simple: I was looking for a course I hadn’t done before, that I was allowed to do, that didn’t hold too many lectures and in some way attracted me.
It took a long time. Eventually, I found one: Russian 100. Simply, an introduction to the Russian language. I’m sure my reason for this is fairly straightforward.
Finding my second course took even longer, but I eventually had it: Wine Science 120. Simply: learning about, and tasting of, wines. After all, if you’re going to drink, you might as well make it worthwhile.
I have no idea how either of these courses apply to mathematics. But, on their completion, I will obtain a certificate proudly stating I can do maths. And that’s all that matters.