Monday, July 30, 2012

Is Algebra Necessary?

Every few years, some writer somewhere thinks he (or she) is going to set the world on fire by suggesting that we should stop trying to teach all our students algebra:
A TYPICAL American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I’ve found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn’t. 
I've decided not to get upset by such articles anymore.  I addressed the topic over 6 years ago, and I don't see that my points are any less valid in the face of the above-linked article than they were in 2006, when I said:
A well-rounded, liberally-educated person needs to be able to do more than just write, more than just calculate, more than just know geography. A well-rounded person needs to know all of the above. And can we not accomplish that minimum after 13 years of school...?

Mr. Cohen, in his disgust for an entire academic field, wants to close doors for students before those students even get to those doors. How many times must we hear--by the same people who don't think students should be taught algebra--about how all our low-skill jobs are being sent overseas? Or how many times do those who denigrate algebra refer to it as "college track" or "higher" math, notwithstanding the fact that it's taught to 13-year-olds all over the world? 
Our problem is not that we're trying to teach too much math to our students.

1 comment:

pseudotsuga said...

Ah, I see--they're all about teaching "critical thinking," but without learning the idea of solving for X. Hmm...that's going to end well. Algebra is one of those basic things that a person who is educated, rather than credentialed, should know.