Apr 24, 2012 by

473959 is a slim memoir recently published on Amazon Kindle by our Foreign and British Correspondent, Colin Hannaford.

Forty years ago Colin Hannaford was a young army captain who seriously annoyed the British government by publicly protesting that its use of the army to suppress legitimate civil unrest in Northern Ireland would provoke, not prevent, more violence. This is what happened for the next twenty years. Within weeks Colin was tricked into entering a military psychiatric hospital which was ordered to treat him as insane. Instead the hospital found him sane. He left the Army a few years later, trained in Cambridge University, and taught school mathematics for nearly thirty years. In Cambridge he explained to a group of eminent theologians and philosophers that on the first evening in the hospital he had experienced what Bishop John Robinson, author of “Honest to God”, later described as ‘a revelation entirely within the Christian tradition’. They advised him to tell no-one about his experience, but to incorporate in his teaching. Mathematics seemed most unlikely to harbour any spirituality. Eventually he realised that mathematics has actually a spiritual and a consequent moral basis. Both have been forgotten for millennia. Essentially the impulse that drives mathematics is that of strict social equality: of treating no authority as being above criticism; of demanding open, honest discourse. Of course this is true of other sciences. The difference is that everyone must take mathematics lessons. Their purpose is widely supposed to measure children’s intelligence. Colin explains why the modern orthodoxy is far more likely to destroy children’s confidence in their intelligence: to make the clever selfish; to oblige the majority to learn dishonesty; and finally to reject an angry remainder. Mathematics lessons should encourage all young people to inquire, to doubt, and to question confidently and courageously. This is the basis of a healthy democracy. Later Colin discovered that this is also no accident. Learning to argue in a manner that we now call ‘mathematical’ was the foundation of Athenian democracy over two millennia ago. This is well-known to classical historians. It cannot be entirely an accident that modern governments ignore it. Few modern political elites truly wish to become a ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people’. They would rather that ‘the people’ remain mutually distrustful supporters of deliberately divisive parties, destroying national unity by hurling vitriolic contempt and abuse at one another – a habit established in their classrooms – whilst they keep all real power for themselves. 473959 is now available world-wide on Amazon Kindle. It explains how mathematics lessons can revive democratic discourse: how youngsters can learn mathematics more effectively and enjoyably; how this can become a mutually rewarding and collective enterprise, rather than the process, which many will recognize, of repeated humiliation by their teacher, of covert humiliation by others.

Late last year Colin’s ex-pupils asked ‘the world’s best maths teacher’ to begin a Facebook group “to teach more people what you taught us in your classroom.” The series of essays that he wrote for ‘Children for an honest, just, and fair world’ have all been published in EducationViews. They describe how children can learn to be proud of their honesty: how democracy can be established in a nation’s classrooms: how a damaged democracy can be revived in a nation’s classrooms: how evolution is itself guided by honesty: how honesty may be regarded as a universal cosmic impulse.

This series of essays will also be published soon in Amazon Kindle. You may like to look for them. Some governments may still find them dangerously subversive.

As they are!

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