Abandoning Algebra Is Not the Answer (Scientific American)

In an opinion piece for the New York Times on Sunday, political science professor Andrew Hacker asks, “Is Algebra Necessary?” and answers, “No.” It’s not just algebra: geometry and calculus are on the chopping block, too. It’s not that he doesn’t think math is important; he wants the traditional sequence to be replaced by a general “quantitative skills” class, and perhaps some statistics.

Quite a few people have responded to Hacker’s column already. I highly recommend these posts by Rob Knop, Daniel Willingham, and RiShawn Biddle.

There are so many problems with Hacker’s essay that it’s hard to know where to start. Hacker’s first main point is that math is difficult, and the poor grades that result prevent too many people from graduating high school or college. His second is that the math we learn is not the math we need in our jobs.

Math certainly is incomprehensible to many students, but from where I sit, poor teaching is often the reason. Math education is failing many of our students. Few pre-college math teachers majored or even minored in math, and until more teachers do, improvements will be hard to come by. Ironically, it seems that people who have mastered “useless” algebra and other higher math topics tend to get jobs that pay more than middle school math teachers earn. I have the utmost respect for people with math degrees who choose to teach in spite of the poor pay and discipline problems, but few people make that choice. Math education needs help, but Hacker’s suggestions throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Read the rest here.


Wow ... I read the piece that Ruth put up not that long ago about defunding political science, and then I got this article forwarded to me from an atheist friend, and I about dropped my teeth. I'd like to say that I'm hallucinating or that this is all one big joke, but apparently, it isn't. The United States is falling behind the rest of the world in math as it is, and Andrew Hacker would put us even FURTHER back by removing it altogether. I mean it; I'm shaking my head, part in wonderment, part in apoplectic fury at the stupidity of this suggestion.

It would seem that there are those in the US who want us STUPID, uneducated, and unaware. Sound familiar?

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Check me on this ... but I THINK that's the whole POINT!

And many people in the USA never will have such things as gifted programmes or computer science classes. I calculated for an article I wrote that the number of school age children where I grew up vs. the size of the school district (570 sq miles) that we would have had maybe six children spread through four schools for a gifted programme, here where I live now the district is bigger and the school district is smaller.

As to the issue of attracting teachers, to get someone to move out here as a high calibre teacher and live the vida isolada would require more money than the school district has.

It seems to me the only solution is for those who can who live in such isolated villages like myself are to offer themselves as mentors to the children (and adults) who are here, to augment teaching staff in schools. As it happens, my village's library (the smallest town in Nebraska with an accredited public library, and one of three places here with an Internet connection - the other two being the General Store and my house), and the three room public school in the next town over that serves the whole county are quite aware of my wife and me will not hesitate to call on us to help, which we will gladly do.

The most important thing we can do for our children (and adults) here is to inspire them with a desire to learn, and the Internet gives them a window to do so, even though we could never afford a gifted programme or computer science education curriculum here.

But the thought of throwing out algebra or other such "difficult" courses that require critical thinking skills seems to mesh right up with the know-nothings in some political quarters that would like the next generation to be more ignorant and easily led, like sheep to slaughter.

While I only have a high school education, I do what I can (locally) to counter that trend.




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