William The Maths Bear's Paws For Thought September 2017

19th August 2017

Hello Tiny Humans,

After the very sad news in our last newsletter and the somewhat serious content of my last column we’re going to go in a slightly different direction this month.

There have been a few instances of celebrities publicly engaging with maths recently – with varying degrees of success! I must admit I felt rather sorry for former England footballer Phillip Neville recently. While discussing former teammate Ross Barkley’s performance live on Sky Sports Neville attempted to ‘list’ his priorities saying “He [Barkley] so desperately wanted to…”

“1. Score goals, 1. Play well, 1. Be the star, 2. err, 4. Play for England.”

Oh dear Phillip – oh dear. Look, we all know that live television is difficult and nerve-wrecking but most adult can at least count to 4 under pressure – or even two at least. We are sure the man can count in reality and he just got a bit mixed up and flustered but let’s face it, it doesn’t set a brilliant example for any young people watching, or even innumerate adults for that matter.

Also, he may be a former footballer but his job is now to be a television pundit and commentator, he has a responsibility to get such statements right. To be fair though, the amount of flack he received on Twitter for the gaffe makes us feel he has been ‘punished’ enough! He took it with good humour too, when one user Tweeted at him “You learned to count yet Phil?” he replied cheerfully “September when schools are back!”.

Some people even suggested it was a deliberate error with one user suggesting: “Can’t stop laughing at this. I refuse to believe it’s real. I think Phil Neville’s a comedy genius having us all on.” We doubt it, but check out the video and see what you think!

Some people commented that they weren’t surprised as footballers are often perceived to be ‘thick’ as are many celebrities, especially reality TV stars. In fact some reality TV stars seem to deliberately exaggerate and capitalise on the idea that they’re not very bright, either for laughs or because they (gasp) might not have much actual talent.

But one shocked us all recently – Rylan Clack the tall, camp singer turned TV presenter with the thick Essex accent. Rylan, who shot to fame after a clip of him having an utter meltdown and sobbing hysterically after being told he was going through to the next stage of the X-factor in 2010. Yeah, that Rylan.

Here’s the video in case you need reminding further.

He actually seems like quite a sweet guy nowadays, and is taking his new media career quite seriously. He recently appeared as a guest presenter on This Morning with Alison Hammond and two of the young stars of the recent Child Genius and the kids grilled them with examples of the kind of questions that would appear on the show.

Two of these were maths problems, the first being a very simple question concerning velocity, the next being an Algebraic problem on the blackboard. Neither were too challenging but Rylan got them both without hesitation and for someone who hadn’t been to school for many years and had worked as a model and in Ibiza boy bands since he was 16, he was shocked and delighted by his performance.

As he leapt out of his chair in glee and high fived his Child Genius counterpart his co-star Alison even accused him of cheating - so he insisted production staff confirm he had not been given the answers!

It’s not a big thing at all and the flip side is that it sadly just shows how low we set the bar for adult numeracy in the UK, especially for celebrities. Both questions were relatively simple although we admit algebra is a classic which makes adults freeze in panic, especially when being compared to a child!

However, he was clearly pleased with himself saying "I can't believe I did that well! I promise you, I'm really clever." People on Twitter were also surprised and impressed and it just goes to show, people don’t always fit into the little boxes that we expect, and that’s a really good thing.

So Well Done Rylan. Good for you. The rest of us need to raise our expectations and reject the idea that certain types of people just won’t be able to do maths.

Till next month Tiny Humans!