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Ethical Maths

It has been an exciting week as we have welcomed in more of our new reception children. One of the real pleasures has been watching our Year 1 children and our new children playing and singing together. There is a real sense of an evolving community, caring and growing together, which we will be building on over the coming weeks and months. Becoming part of a class and part of a community is a foundation stone of primary school. Education is as much about learning to be as it is about learning to do. It is essential that children are able to add up, spell correctly, conduct experiments, programme computers and acquire a host of other skills at school. It is just as essential that we teach them to think critically, to consider the ethical, environmental and human aspects of the problems they face. One of the biggest criticisms of globalisation is that we have created systems and mind-sets, which have allowed and even encouraged us to become distant from the effects of our decisions. Whether it is high-level decisions about outsourcing work, or more day-to-day decisions around the food we buy, the coffee we drink and the clothes we wear, we are beginning to understand that our actions have moral aspects to them. Almost everything we do has ethical, environmental and human dimensions: the choice is whether we educate children to see those dimensions or to learn to ignore them.

In the 1950s the renowned Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel walked into a packed hall of students and began his lecture by asking about the kashrut (acceptable) status of the swordfish. According to legend the hall burst into lively discussion as the students argued different halakhic (Jewish legal) viewpoints. After watching the lively discussion, Heschel held up his hand and asked the students about the kashrut status of the atom bomb. It was the 1950s. There was silence in the hall.

Heschel's point is there is no purpose in simply knowing facts 'in abstract'. Learning, even the most esoteric study, has to have a relationship to the world around us and to the lives we lead. Our challenge as a school is to ensure that our teaching and the children's learning reflects the diversity of the world they live in.

During a maths activity this week, Lior, one of our new reception children, was asked 'if you have 4 sweets and some one gives you one more, how may will you have?'
Lior was clear: 'Too many sweets' he answered. Heschel, I'm sure, would have been pleased.

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