Sunday, July 29, 2012

Is Algebra Necessary (for everyone)?

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.

 My question extends beyond algebra and applies more broadly to the usual mathematics sequence, from geometry through calculus. State regents and legislators — and much of the public — take it as self-evident that every young person should be made to master polynomial functions and parametric equations.

There are many defenses of algebra and the virtue of learning it. Most of them sound reasonable on first hearing; many of them I once accepted. But the more I examine them, the clearer it seems that they are largely or wholly wrong — unsupported by research or evidence, or based on wishful logic. (I’m not talking about quantitative skills, critical for informed citizenship and personal finance, but a very different ballgame.)
Read the rest here.

Where was this guy 30 years ago when I was daily slitting my wrists before algebra class?


Michael said...

I agree with one of the commenters on the original article. Algebra teaches one how to think.

Personally, I was miserable in math until I got to university. I don't know whether that is because I was a late bloomer, or because I wasn't taught by good teachers. (Good math teachers are a rarity and a prize if you can get one).

On the other hand, I know a very bright eight year old boy in my parish, who I think is almost (but not quite!) ready to be introduced to algebra. He is already Googling on the subject, and asking both his father and me questions about it. I might give it a shot after his upcoming birthday later this year.

So, I do think that it is essential to teach good math skills to as many people as possible. However, I believe that traditional approaches do not always work well, and that new instructional methods need to be tried.

As a side note, I think it is past time we reconsidered the assumption that everyone needs to go to college in order to be worth anything as a worker. Most people are not "university material" anyway, and would be much better off in apprenticeships, or in vocational or technical training. Higher education has become a racket. Walter Russell Mead has a lot of exccellent articles on his blog, on this subject.

Anonymous said...

5. Any decent carpenter needs to know this amount of basic algebra. Not everybody can be a white collar worker.