Anyway, apart from doing the tests herself, she seems to have phoned a number of people and read a question to them over the phone and timed them on how long they can do it (11-year-olds are supposed to be able to do it in 3 minutes, on average). At six seconds, lovely David Mitchell is the only one to beat me (look, I told you there was going to be smugness) and makes himself lovelier by saying he doesn't use the calculus "much", as though every once in a while a problem pops up during filming Peep Show that he can solve with a quick use of the quotient rule or something.
There's an accompanying quiz taken from exam papers ranging from end-of-primary-school to GCSE in the paper, but not all of it seems to be online (the bit I can find is here, maybe it links through or something). I made one slip when I swapped 32 for 33 in my head by mistake, but the Guardian made two (a typo that screws up the numbers for one question, and one of the questions is unsolvable as written; it boils down to three simultaneous equations in four unknowns). Fortunately, the Guardian's regular blog crowd seem to be all over it, saving me from having to dust off my green pen to write to the Reader's Editor.
Anyway, on the question that Mangan phoned round with, I came about level pegging with Larry Elliott, the Grauniad's economics editor, who did it in twenty seconds, and who makes a very good point when he says "I find it strange when people are almost proud of the fact that they're innumerate, when they'd be horrified to say that they were illiterate". "Finding it strange" is putting it politely really; it's bloody appalling that this two-cultures-y-ness carries on to this day, blah blah blah Paxo on University Challenge always sneering at people who don't know obscure quotes but being amazed when they can do simple sums blah blah blah it's the twenty first century now for crying out loud blah.
But what really cheers me up/makes me want to hit things, depending on which angle I look at it from, is the fact that Chris Woodhead, the man who made his name (and his living for several years) by running around the place shouting that teachers are crap and as far as I'm aware continues to encourage parents to be obnoxious shits in his Sunday Times columns to this day, can't do sums that the average eleven year old is supposed to be able to. He doesn't even really seem to try, whereas most of Mangan's other victims give it a go and generally struggle through to the right answer in the end (the parameters of the question are such that you really should be able to do it by an exhaustive search of the given range of possible answers well within the allotted three minutes). Woodhead justifies his abject failure by saying "I don't think that's the kind of everyday maths that people need. I think people need to be able to check their change when they go to the shop, they need to be able to calculate what they're owed. That's the kind of maths people need." apparently having completely failed to notice that the question requires exactly that kind of maths, plus a tiny tiny soupcon of problem solving skills. (Actually, I'm quite prepared to believe that Woodhead is a ZOMGelitist who would rather the vast majority of people did not have those sorts of analytical skills so that they could just do as they were told in sheeplike ranks in call centre jobs while the scions of the upper classes go to private schools and learned to lord it over them. But that would probably be unfair. Probably.)
Anyway, imagine if someone -- anyone -- in public life said something like "I don't think people need to know Shakespeare. That's not the kind of everyday English they need. I think people need to be able to be able to read job application forms and fill them in accurately." There would be an outcry. And rightly so. So, to put Elliott's point more forcefully, what the fuck is so socially acceptable about being innumerate? God, it makes my blood boil.
(I warned you about the rantiness too, didn't I?)
Ooh, my default icon is particularly appropriate today 'cos it
In other news: I had completely forgotten I had ordered a dead-tree copy of Campaign until I got home today to find it waiting on my doormat. YAAAAAY! I can has batshit insane rejected Who novel. With 60% as much material again in author's notes and such. I am v happy now.
There's a lot of links in this post, aren't there? I ought to be careful in case it turns into some sort of weblog thing.