Broadside: The great mystification of mathematics in Nepal

The Operation will begin early spring when all schools are in session, after the children have been taught not to question.

They must have learned to repeat, to rock and roll without rebellion. All childhood curiosity must be quelled. Without these requirements, ‘Operation: The Great Mystification of Mathematics‘ cannot begin.

The rocking and rolling is crucial here and classes must be taught to do so in unison while reciting the ‘Times Table’. The Times Table must be written on the blackboard:

2 x 1 = 2
2 x 2 = 4
2 x 3 = 6 …

and recited thus:

Two oneJA too
Two tooJA four
Two threeJA six

If they have their hands folded while reciting, even better! The body will be bound and the mind lulled into a false sense of comfort. It will also be the foundation of the separation of the mind and the body in academia. The familiarity of the lulling sound and motion of rocking should drown out any questions that may arise but do not underestimate these little humans. In every classroom, there will always be that one impertinent child who will dare to ask questions and actually expect a sensible answer.

Such impertinence can be easily quelled by avoiding the question, hitting the said child with whatever resource available, questioning the child thereby confusing, or giving such behaviour a label as I just did. You can choose ‘Impertinence’ or ‘Insolence’ or any other word from the variety listed in the Operation Handbook.

Whatever you do, under no circumstances must a ‘sensible’ answer be given. Understand that to give a children a sensible answer is to destroy their childhood innocence. Ignorance is bliss and it is our duty to protect the children from anything that may dismantle their ignorance. We must keep them from wanting to learn of their own volition.

They must learn only what is given and no more.

To dismantle any possibility of a rebellion, we must teach the child to add, subtract, and even divide. These are Useful Things and when they learn to do simple addition and subtraction on their own, they will feel a sense of accomplishment because they will have learned to arrive at a Sensible Answer on their own. If you are lucky, this will also compound to the parents of the children that they are being taught ‘useful things’ and to not question their teachers.

Keith Gilbertson/YouTube; Opening Image: Dfataustralianaid/Flickr.

This is also where the tricky part begins. We would have given them the idea that a sensible answer exists. They would have learned the dangerous thrill of a sense of accomplishment that the ‘aha’ moment of finding answers on their own brings. Such ideas pose a great obstacle to the success of the Operation.

Hence, the Operation relies on three core strategies: Confuse, ‘Defuse’, and Disillusion.



The goal of the recitation of the Times Table in singsong (as the children rock back and forth in unison as a class, preferably with their hands folded) is to confuse. The confuse role is played by the discreet –’JA’ suffix, which must always be sung in an upbeat tone, hitting a higher note than the rest of the song.

This will focus the children’s energy and enthusiasm towards getting the note higher and louder, and away from any interest they have in finding a sensible answer. The repetition of the suffix from 2 to 9 of the Times Table, multiple times a day over the course of multiple weeks will have smoothened all meaning out of the Table itself.

The children will assume they know what it means from the great familiarity they will have developed with its sound. They will have experienced no sense of discovery in the process. Soon the singsong will all be forgotten until years later they hear another child spew it out again without understanding what has been chewed, mashed up and thrown out of the window.

Of course, we highly recommend not throwing anything out of the window, especially a child. You may hit them with a duster or call them a ‘duffer’ instead. ‘Idiot’ also works well. Any kind of label. Labels follow a child around much longer than bruises would take to fade. It may even turn into a nickname that they will never outgrow. Labels are sure to erase any sign of Impertinence in a child and increase their ignorance, thereby keeping them blissful.

Also read: Broadside: Why a Nepali likes to take photos of wires

Under no circumstance in the said period must they find out that what they are saying is Two-ones- are-two or Two-twos-are-four. If they find this out on their own, you must attempt to shush them from explaining it to another child. We do not have authority outside the classroom, but we can always shush them inside a classroom. This is easily enforced with the fold-your-hand-and-put-your-finger-on-your-lip method.

If they find out that basic concepts of mathematics are made to be understood and multiplication tables easily approached, the Operation would have failed. There will be a few students who slip through but that issue, we will deal with in the next strategy. They cannot be told that no special equipment is required to teach mathematics or that fingers, toes, heads, hands, sticks, beans, dots, anything would do.

The strategy works because the children would have learned to solve problems ‘by heart’. They will be able to recite the Times Table at the drop of a hat, making their parents proud and neighbours jealous, and their hats rather worn. They will be able to regurgitate it throughout their life without understanding that this was perhaps their indoctrination into the Great Mystification of Mathematics.

The role of confuse, however, does not end here.



This strategy works by defusing any enthusiasm a child may have for numbers and anything related to mathematics. The first victims will be those who have missed a lot of classes. These children will automatically feel lost and overwhelmed. Most will never be able to catch up and the Operation will have already succeeded here.

As for the rest, all stories that make up the history of mathematics must be stripped from the teaching and textbook of mathematics itself. This will ensure the belief that mathematics is a Technical subject, which most students will automatically equate with boring. Stripping all stories of mathematics and making the students learn formula by heart, and learning to apply it by heart will further the purpose of the Operation.

Quite a few students would have discovered how words and paintings can open doors for them via expression in Literature, Art or Music classes. These students will find the activity of repeatedly applying formula to certain equations tedious. They will begin to lose interest and grow weary. Some will even come forward with questions about Why pursue or practice mathematics.

Their questions will probably be framed as:

Why do we have to learn mathematics? Arithmetic? Algebra? Geometry? Calculus? What is the point? Why did humans invent these subjects?

The answers given to them must be kept vague at all times.

The ‘why’ questioners often ask out of desperation. They want to know the Usefulness of the subject to justify their own implication in the practice of mathematics. They are seeking reason and this reason, if taken away from them, will make our next strategy much easier.

The why questioners already understand that mathematics is an abstract language. The by heart learning method from childhood will have removed any hint of creativity in the subject. When asked how the equations they have to learn is related to everyday life, mention ‘Word Problems’, the cutesy-framing of sums and equations like solving for father and son’s ages or the how many hamburgers can Mr A eat in x amount of time?

Then follow through with: See? The age of people and hamburgers! How can it not be related to everyday life?

This is an example of how vague and uninteresting answers can be framed to Confuse and Defuse at the same time. We must not allow them to think creativity is involved in mathematics or that mathematics is about exploration and discovery. Any hints of imagination and intrigue must be erased and its relation to art surgically removed.

Students must be told to do sums over and over again, that it requires just sheer hard work and stubbornness with no item that could remotely be identified as fun. Thereby, systematically defusing all enthusiasm.

Any item that may make mathematics remotely interesting will have been removed from prescribed textbooks so answers are already harder to find for most students. Some, who remain adamant and have access to the internet, may even have the audacity to Google their questions. However, hold onto the methods of quelling curiosity and hope that the answers they find are not sensible, interesting and are not propagated among the populace.

We must, like the brotherhood of Pythagoras’ secret school, guard our knowledge. The students must never be told about the beauty of simplicity in Euclid’s geometry or how Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the earth without leaving Egypt and how he may even have accurately calculated the distance of the sun from the earth.

They must never be told about how ‘algebra’ came from the Arabic ‘Al-Jabr’ or that the Persian treatise was a system that sought balance. That there was elegance in symmetry and mathematics could show you how the laws of nature could be defined in a few lines. That the Fibonacci sequence is abundant in nature and structures built with this basic formula is pleasing to the human eye.

The students can be taught the theorem named after Pythagoras but they must never find out that theorems can be witty or charming. The best way to do this is by making them learn by heart.



The phrase ‘by heart’ is gift-wrapped for disillusionment. To clarify:

by heart
synonyms 1. from memory, off pat, by rote, off by heart, word for word, verbatim, word-perfect

A synonym not in this list is 2.) mechanical. This is the perspective to be encouraged.

Mechanical means that there is no heart, which is the understanding of mathematics the Operation aims to impart. Remove any shred of heart and imagination. The phrase does this in practice while implying that “heart” is involved in the process. Use the phrase well.

In the course of their education, many students will have already decided that they dislike mathematics immensely and will run a mile when they see an equation. They will also internalise the idea that they are terrible at it and have no innate ability to solve problems. This is success. The abstract nature of mathematics will already have spread an aura of mystery around the subject, making it incomprehensible to any except those stubborn few who will tediously do the sums over and over or veer off to find those puzzles published by those who continue to rebel the Operation.

Pay no mind to these. The device of using labels will come in handy here in sidelining those who have, despite our endeavors, managed to find the beauty and creativity in mathematics. Those who dislike mathematics will only be too quick to outcast them from their ideas of what beauty and creativity should look like.

They must not discover the links between music and art and literature and mathematics. It is recommended that books such as Godel, Escher, and Bach by Douglas Hofstadter or Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh not be stocked in school libraries.

The confuse and defuse strategies of the Operation will have already rendered the remaining group of stubborn students, who continue to pursue mathematics, small and insignificant. Movies and other media will perpetuate the myth that mathematics is only for the very esoteric or only a few have a natural gift for it.

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The greater majority will not want to learn about the subject once they have escaped the rigors of school. All their mathematical abilities will have been successfully thwarted.
Adult responsibilities will catch up on the remaining few making them even fewer.

A couple will filter on to toil for higher education, whose very nature and process will disillusion them without any effort on the Operation’s part. Their voices will be too small to be heard. Our only job is to ensure that the status quo is maintained.

The number of people, who continue to tout mathematics as an art form, may be unthreatening but we cannot let our guards down.

Great care must be taken in making sure they are not able to make any changes in the educational curriculum that has been set. Textbooks formats should not be tampered with too much. If questions are raised, invoke confuse or defuse strategies.

It is best not to let anyone with a shred of passion be a part of education boards. Only then can the success of Operation: The Great Mystification of Mathematics be guaranteed.

(The writer is based in France. She can be reached at [email protected].)

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