Sun Jul 29, 2012, 02:48 PM
alp227 (30,075 posts)
Andrew Hacker: Is Algebra Necessary? (PUUUUUUUUKE)Last edited Sun Jul 29, 2012, 10:04 PM  Edit history (1)
About the author: Andrew Hacker is an emeritus professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York, and a coauthor of “Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — and What We Can Do About It.”
How did this stupid load of crap make it to the New York Times Sunday opinion page anyway? So let's just surrender math to the Chinese, Indians, and Norwegians while we Americans just have empty good feelings, this article is, essentially. 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 selfevident 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.) This debate matters. Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent. In the interest of maintaining rigor, we’re actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources. The toll mathematics takes begins early. To our nation’s shame, one in four ninth graders fail to finish high school. In South Carolina, 34 percent fell away in 20089, according to national data released last year; for Nevada, it was 45 percent. Most of the educators I’ve talked with cite algebra as the major academic reason. And I found Hacker's take on my state's university entry requirements particularly offensive: California’s two university systems, for instance, consider applications only from students who have taken three years of mathematics and in that way exclude many applicants who might excel in fields like art or history. Community college students face an equally prohibitive mathematics wall. A study of twoyear schools found that fewer than a quarter of their entrants passed the algebra classes they were required to take.
“There are students taking these courses three, four, five times,” says Barbara Bonham of Appalachian State University. While some ultimately pass, she adds, “many drop out.” The stupid keeps on hurting: What of the claim that mathematics sharpens our minds and makes us more intellectually adept as individuals and a citizen body? It’s true that mathematics requires mental exertion. But there’s no evidence that being able to prove (x² + y²)² = (x²  y²)² + (2xy)² leads to more credible political opinions or social analysis.
Among the "NYT Picks" comments: one said: "Not one of my students ever told me that they were interested in doing anything with their lives that would involve algebra. But many dropped out because of algebra." (with 37 recommendations) Another, with 92 recommendations: "Understanding algebra, geometry, and trigonometry shapes perception of the physical world and allows the young minds to grasp the other sciences more firmly. Beyond that, the processes needed to learn math teach young people mental discipline and shape their brain's pathways for higher learning." (ETA) PZ Myers, a biology professor and atheist advocate, takes down Hacker: We live in a technological society. Not learning algebra in the public school system means those kids will not be prepared, will not be qualified, to do anything in science and engineering. I’m serious: if you don’t know algebra, you can’t do basic quantitative chemistry, and if you can’t do that, you can’t do biology. At all. Not the molecular/biochemical/bench side, not the ecological/evolutionary/field side. You can’t do physics, that’s for sure. Forget math and statistics. If you’re not capable of grasping statistics, forget psychology, too.
You can probably still be a competent English major, I admit. But wouldn’t we be better off if all the English majors had an inkling of the foundations of science, as well as all the science majors having a touch of the humanities and social sciences? Shouldn’t we expect that even those people who choose not to pursue a college degree ought to have a bare minimum of competence in math and history and language and science and art, if we’re actually going to deem them educated?

67 replies, 16268 views
67 replies  Author  Time  Post 
Andrew Hacker: Is Algebra Necessary? (PUUUUUUUUKE) (Original post) 
alp227  Jul 2012  OP 
msongs  Jul 2012  #1  
lastlib  Jul 2012  #4  
pnwmom  Jul 2012  #6  
CRK7376  Aug 2012  #57  
pnwmom  Aug 2012  #60  
exboyfil  Jul 2012  #7  
proud2BlibKansan  Jul 2012  #11  
Daemonaquila  Jul 2012  #8  
Goblinmonger  Jul 2012  #18  
HiPointDem  Jul 2012  #37  
2pooped2pop  Aug 2012  #51  
AnneD  Feb 2013  #63  
trixie  Mar 2013  #65  
lastlib  Jul 2012  #2  
Goblinmonger  Jul 2012  #19  
Confusious  Jul 2012  #30  
Goblinmonger  Jul 2012  #42  
Confusious  Jul 2012  #47  
Democracyinkind  Feb 2013  #62  
lastlib  Jul 2012  #44  
pnwmom  Aug 2012  #61  
suston96  Jul 2012  #3  
Confusious  Jul 2012  #5  
Goblinmonger  Jul 2012  #20  
Confusious  Jul 2012  #23  
Goblinmonger  Jul 2012  #24  
Confusious  Jul 2012  #25  
Confusious  Jul 2012  #26  
xocet  Aug 2012  #48  
dballance  Jul 2012  #9  
Genghis_Sean  Aug 2012  #53  
dballance  Aug 2012  #54  
trixie  Mar 2013  #66  
mbperrin  Jul 2012  #10  
Goblinmonger  Jul 2012  #21  
mbperrin  Jul 2012  #36  
Goblinmonger  Jul 2012  #41  
mbperrin  Jul 2012  #43  
knitter4democracy  Jul 2012  #12  
pokerfan  Jul 2012  #13  
struggle4progress  Jul 2012  #14  
Goblinmonger  Jul 2012  #22  
struggle4progress  Jul 2012  #45  
Goblinmonger  Jul 2012  #46  
xocet  Aug 2012  #49  
HiPointDem  Jul 2012  #39  
trixie  Mar 2013  #67  
RobertAustin  Jul 2012  #15  
CRK7376  Aug 2012  #58  
ehrnst  Jul 2012  #16  
LWolf  Jul 2012  #17  
Igel  Jul 2012  #29  
HiPointDem  Jul 2012  #40  
mia  Jul 2012  #27  
liberal N proud  Jul 2012  #28  
Lemonwurst  Jul 2012  #31  
mia  Jul 2012  #34  
d_r  Jul 2012  #32  
madrchsod  Jul 2012  #33  
mbperrin  Aug 2012  #56  
Igel  Jul 2012  #35  
HiPointDem  Jul 2012  #38  
ICDpress  Aug 2012  #50  
DetlefK  Aug 2012  #52  
skippercollector  Aug 2012  #55  
CRK7376  Aug 2012  #59  
mbperrin  Feb 2013  #64 
Response to alp227 (Original post)
Sun Jul 29, 2012, 02:56 PM
msongs (48,008 posts)
1. except as an elective Algebra is pretty much useless for many students...
unless one is going into a field of study where algebra actually has a use, its a waste of time, unless one enjoys solving problems and puzzles. Great for an academic exercise, an elective, a few months tour of the math world. Real world useful? Not so much. Does keep a lot of academics employed though.

Response to msongs (Reply #1)
Sun Jul 29, 2012, 03:12 PM
lastlib (11,645 posts)
4. False. Try, for instance, grasping the calculation of compound interest on a bank loan for a home..
...without an understanding of algebra. The bankers will take you to the cleaners if you don't understand their workings. The stuff has far too many practical applications to everyday situations to be ignored in school. Maybe you don't use polynomial theorems every day, but you would do well to understand some applications of 'em.

Response to msongs (Reply #1)
Sun Jul 29, 2012, 03:24 PM
pnwmom (93,229 posts)
6. Maybe. But students who don't tackle those subjects may be shutting doors prematurely.
I don't think the reason Canadians and South Koreans do so much better at math is because they're more intelligent. It's because they've learned to put the practice in  they believe success at math is related to time and effort rather than natural ability; and so their students learn to persevere.
One of my children told me, after retaking a calculus class and doing very well, that he'd finally realized that learning calculus was simply a matter of cranking out enough problems; the more he did, the more he understood the concept. I do understand that some fraction of people may be learning disabled with regard to math; but I think a much larger group have learned to avoid math because someone gave them the idea that if they didn't immediately "get" the concepts, they weren't "good at math." Many people are like my son: they don't feel like "math geniuses" but they can become good at math simply by practicing it enough. 
Response to pnwmom (Reply #6)
Thu Aug 23, 2012, 11:48 AM
CRK7376 (1,716 posts)
57. I practiced math until I
threw up and I still don't get it. I've mastered enough to get by in life, to earn three master's degrees but I still hate the stuff. I haven't been able to help my kids with their math homework since about the 7th8th grade. I just totally block out math. Just glad others enjoy it and do well with the nasty (insert dirty word of choice here) subject!

Response to CRK7376 (Reply #57)
Thu Aug 23, 2012, 02:06 PM
pnwmom (93,229 posts)
60. I know there are people like you because my sister is one of them.
Oddly enough, she is excellent at some tasks that seem highly mathematical to me but not at all to her, because she has a fantastic spatial sense. (Much better than mine.) She can take a striped wallpaper and get it to fit around a room, around all the obstructions, and figure out where everything should end up so the stripes look good in the end. And yet she thinks she's no good at math. Go figure.

Response to msongs (Reply #1)
Sun Jul 29, 2012, 03:26 PM
exboyfil (10,305 posts)
7. Math is part of a broad liberal arts education
It makes no more sense to exclude a math requirement than it does to exclude a social science, science, or even a language arts requirement. Our High School requires three years of math (Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra II) to graduate from High School. It requires four years of language arts. It requires three years of social studies. It requires three years of science. It even requires two years of Fine or Practical Arts. The liberal arts curriculum at our state universities puts a very limited requirement on knowing math and science (10 hours total with only six of those hours quantitative based, and the math is of a very rudimentary level). The requirement is far less than that found in the other liberal arts.
Of course I am an engineer, and I am biased, but the ability to understand quantitative facts around you is essential to being a good citizen in my opinion. Global warning, the banking crisis, environmental damage, or even understanding taxes all can be enhanced by additional trainiinstruction in mathematics. Lets take the author's two examples: Art requires a significant amount of mant manipulation to get perspective correct. Has the author heard of the golden ratio? One of the greatest artists of all time was also one of the greatest engineers of all time  Da Vinci. Modern art is firmly entrenched in modern technology (ie math). My daughter is studying engineering. She is also studying documentary film production and video editing. The two go hand in hand. As far as history. How can you understand the progress of technology in history without understanding math? Having a basic understanding of algebra and geometry (not even trig is required and I would argue that would be helpful) is esential in this modern world to be an educated individual. I would no more want to see math excluded than literature or history or a foreign language. All of these are hard as well and leave many quantative based individuals with limited career options. Yes to "Hamlet" but no to the quadratic equation. A liberal arts education requires both. 
Response to exboyfil (Reply #7)
Sun Jul 29, 2012, 06:57 PM
proud2BlibKansan (96,793 posts)
11. +1
Amen

Response to msongs (Reply #1)
Sun Jul 29, 2012, 03:50 PM
Daemonaquila (1,712 posts)
8. That's a crock.
Good luck being a productive citizen without math. It's getting so bad that a lot of cashiers can't count change so the machines do it. But what happens when there's a breakdown? A lot of these folks can't figure out even basic math or how to at least figure tax and change with a calculator. What about basic neighborhood and school groups? Ever tried to run a bake sale without math? Fundraise meaningfully for a school trip? Figure out the balance sheet of a neighborhood board or homeowners' association? Then, how about running one's own small business?
Algebra and geometry matter in everything we do, from figuring out gas consumption on a long trip, to deciding how much lumber and soil is needed for a back yard raised garden. Don't pretend that basic math is enough  at minimum, an understanding of story problems (simpler algebra), geometry, simpler polynomials, and most importantly  enough practice in more complex math that doing more basic math in one's head is second nature and not in the least bit intimidating. The claim that algebra is unnecessary is just more lazy American nonsense helped along by the thugs who want a stupid and helpless worker underclass. 
Response to Daemonaquila (Reply #8)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 07:03 PM
Goblinmonger (22,340 posts)
18. Algebra won't help them make change.
Perhaps if they had, instead, had a class that addressed their deficiencies and taught them business math instead of pushing them through a prealigned sequence of math classes, they would be able to make that change.

Response to msongs (Reply #1)
Tue Jul 31, 2012, 03:37 AM
HiPointDem (20,729 posts)
37. plenty of jobs require you to find an unknown quantity. like a number of hospital jobs, for example
algebra has real life uses. but at least in my case, it was taught by math people in a way that made sense to math people but totally befuddled nonmath folks like my younger self. and being a dumb younger self, i faked it to barely pass, telling myself "I'll never need this".
But it turned out i did. and it also turned out i grasped it (parts of it) very easily when i understood it in terms of reallife situations rather than all those weird symbols and concepts (i got 'new math' & i just turned off when it didn't make sense). 
Response to msongs (Reply #1)
Fri Aug 3, 2012, 08:10 AM
2pooped2pop (5,420 posts)
51. I agree
I see way too many kids out there who can't count change back but are forced to flunk through Algebra. No they won't ever use it.
People who actually need it for a career can take it but it is a huge determent to college for kids who know they can never hope to pass that class. There are simple formulas and other help to understand your mortgage calculations as another poster said was a good reason to teach algebra. As a nurse, I watched people struggle with this course. When might they use it? Drug dosage computations. That is one formula. They had to learn the whole course for that one formula that they will never have to use but should know. Only those kids with the basic math skills down pat should be pushed into the higher math. Kids need to know how to count change back when the customer hands you a penny after you have already hit the amount tendered. You would be surprised at how many this confuses. They need to be able to tell if a 30% off deal is better than a buy one get one at half price deal. They need to be able to double a recipe to feed more. They need to be able to decide if a 15 oz can at 1.00 is a better deal than 2 8oz cans at .59. Teach them these things first. Then worry about higher math 
Response to msongs (Reply #1)
Wed Feb 6, 2013, 03:24 PM
AnneD (15,774 posts)
63. As a Nurse....
I have found that I used algebra almost every day in the hospital calculating dosages. Who da thunk it. I learned algebra all the while kicking and screaming.
You may think it not so useful in the real world, but I bet the patients I am medicating are grateful I took it. A base line knowledge of Algebra has been useful in all the business, chemistry, biology, philosophy, statistics, and logic courses I have taken. I use to think education reformers wanted a smarter population. Silly me, they just want us to be smart enough to run the machines but dumb enough not to realize how badly we are being F#$ked over. 
Response to msongs (Reply #1)
Tue Mar 26, 2013, 06:12 PM
trixie (867 posts)
65. are you kidding?
I use algebra all the time. Need curtains? Use algebra. Carpeting, banking, home improvements..............

Response to alp227 (Original post)
Sun Jul 29, 2012, 03:05 PM
lastlib (11,645 posts)
2. So who is this brainfartfromhell, anyway? Without my training in math....
...I wouldn't be worth squat as a programmer, other highly necessary scientific concepts I have learned would be comparable to voodoo magic. Logical thinking skills go handinglove with mathematical skills. Economics is a social science that depends heavily on mathematical skills of algebra, calculus, statistics, and other disciplines. I just cannot imagine being able to function in this world without a good grounding in mathematical skills. It trained me to think in the logical, disciplined way that I do. And I see far too many people who don't acquire those skills thru mathematics don't acquire them in any other discipline, and it hampers them in far too many ways throughout their lives, in being able to construct logical, clear, rational ideas.
This guy needs to go crawl back into his hole and evolve a little more..... 
Response to lastlib (Reply #2)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 07:06 PM
Goblinmonger (22,340 posts)
19. I don't think his argument is that you shouldn't have taken it, or
that it shouldn't be offered. Just that, perhaps, making every student take algebra is not in the best interest of every student. I teach high school English. I have many gifted students that are going to go on to be talented fiction and nonfiction writers. For some of them, your "logical, disciplined" way of thinking would hinder their creative process and won't help them in their career. Yet you don't seem to care about their outcome.

Response to Goblinmonger (Reply #19)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 09:07 PM
Confusious (8,317 posts)
30. I don't write for a living, so why take English?
I don't plan on being a musician, so why take music?
I don't plan on being a politician, so why take government? I don't plan on being a historian, so why take history? I don't plan on being an artist, so why take art? I don't plan on going to a foreign country, so why take a foreign language or geography? I guess I see now why you responded the way you did to my post down below. Brillant idea. we're already behind in math and science, so let's cut that. As someone else said, if you want a third world country, it's a brillant way to get it. 
Response to Confusious (Reply #30)
Tue Jul 31, 2012, 09:29 AM
Goblinmonger (22,340 posts)
42. You are making it too binary and simplistic.
The argument I am making is that if you aren't going to go into a career that uses calculus, why be required to take trig? (I'm going to kind of combine the other subthread here if that's OK). I realize in the realm of all that is mathematics that algebra is at the beginning. I'm saying that algebra isn't basic math for your average, nonGoodWillHunting, student. Knowing algebra at some level will be the most math (with some geometry) that they will ever need in their life. That which is covered in high school physics is basic physics compared to what ever it is called that Hawking learns. Doesn't mean you should have to understand high school physics to get into college.
But if you aren't going to be a musician, you should have to take AP Music theory? You aren't going to be a politician, but you should take AP Econ? You aren't going to be a historian, but you should take AP US, World, and European History? You aren't going to be an artist, but you should have to take Art Theory 4? I have NEVER said we should cut math and science. But if you think that teaching a kid that is going to be a history teacher calculus just because we are "behind in math" is going to solve the problem of our best and brightest in math being behind in math (which I think is just not true), then I would like to see the study that shows that. I have also NEVER said that we should stop teaching or requiring everyone to take math and science. It just seems like we should teach the subject to students at the level that they need it to survive. Most people can live their lives well with a basic understanding of algebra and geometry. They don't need to understand it at the level that gets them ready for trig and calculus. Plenty of people need math for what they are going to do in their life. They should still get pushed. Do you think your belowaverage kid in pickyourcountryyouthinkisbeatingusatmath takes algebra, geometry, and trig in high school? Most studies that show us behind in math and science pit the other countries best and brightest against everyone in the US with $50 to take the ACT/SAT. 
Response to Goblinmonger (Reply #42)
Tue Jul 31, 2012, 06:56 PM
Confusious (8,317 posts)
47. ?!
"It just seems like we should teach the subject to students at the level that they need it to survive"
I'm agast. I really am. I have not the words. 
Response to Confusious (Reply #47)
Tue Feb 5, 2013, 10:52 AM
Democracyinkind (4,015 posts)
62. Grunting and bartering 101
People could get their degrees right after enrolling!
Breathing 101 is said to be a real challenge, though. 
Response to Goblinmonger (Reply #19)
Tue Jul 31, 2012, 12:09 PM
lastlib (11,645 posts)
44. I most certainly do care about their outcome.
If they want to be writers, they have to be able to write clear, comprehsible sentences, or their writing is just gibberish. Writing clear, comprehensible sentences requires some amount of logic. Logic requires understanding relational equivalenceswhich is pretty much what algebra is. It would quite possibly be a boon to their careers to be able to manipulate those relational equivalences to build better literary works. Mathematics is said to be a universal language; what better tool can you give someone whose job it is to communicate?

Response to Goblinmonger (Reply #19)
Thu Aug 23, 2012, 02:14 PM
pnwmom (93,229 posts)
61. I don't think that logical, disciplined thinking has to hinder the creative process.
Logic and creativity both have their appropriate time and function. Fiction writers, when they're not in the throes of the creative process, need to be able to take a step back and analyze and edit what their right brains have produced. To use the right brain/left brain analogy, characterization and voice probably come more from the right brain; plotting and editing from the left.
The trick is to be able to use both parts of our brain, together and separately. 
Response to alp227 (Original post)
Sun Jul 29, 2012, 03:09 PM
suston96 (4,161 posts)
3. The language of science........
Science or sciences require their own language(s). It is said Isaac Newton developed calculus to describe his theories of gravity and motion.
The problem is with the teaching of mathematics at all levels and its relation with the physical world. You have ten oranges. You sell 5 oranges and eat 2. How many apples do you have left? OK. Trying to be funny, but my experience involves learning Algebra and Chemistry in High School, Physics in college and years of computer physics and electronics in the US Air Force. All very painful but I made it and I am glad. Now I realize what is involved in achieving mankind's journeys to the worlds and universes beyond. We need mathematics to speak and understand science. Oh, eat those 2 apples ............Messy examples are not funny in the world of science. 
Response to alp227 (Original post)
Sun Jul 29, 2012, 03:17 PM
Confusious (8,317 posts)
5. Figures a "soft science," ( I say that loosely
I don't think it's a science at all), would say that.
I could see a lot of below average intelligence people not passing it, but do we want them in a university anyways? If you give it some effort, it's not that hard. I say that as a person who has a hard time with math and terrible math anxiety. Some people just don't want to try. Now calculus, and they way they teach it in Universities these days, that's hard. 
Response to Confusious (Reply #5)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 07:07 PM
Goblinmonger (22,340 posts)
20. Yes. Of course. Hard science is the only true test of intelligence.
If you can't pass the hard science classes you don't even have the right to go to a university.
for the impaired. 
Response to Goblinmonger (Reply #20)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 08:09 PM
Confusious (8,317 posts)
23. Algebra doesn't qualify as "hard science"
it's basic math.
and if you can't pass it, you shouldn't go. And I said "soft science" becuase it always seems to be people in the "soft sciences" and "liberal arts" who are always hammering on the "hard sciences" trying to tear them down. If you want an example, look up "The science wars," for an example of the attack on the "hard sciences." 
Response to Confusious (Reply #23)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 08:12 PM
Goblinmonger (22,340 posts)
24. Your attitude toward the "soft sciences"
is sickening. And algebra isn't basic math. There are many buildings on college campuses that teach a lot of wonderful and difficult things that do not require math or science. I'm sure you disagree given your post, but it's true.

Response to Goblinmonger (Reply #24)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 08:16 PM
Confusious (8,317 posts)
25. Just chomping at the bit, aren't you
And I said "soft science" becuase it always seems to be people in the "soft sciences" and "liberal arts" who are always hammering on the "hard sciences" trying to tear them down.
If you want an example, look up "The science wars," for an example of the attack on the "hard sciences." And algebra is basic math. 
Response to Goblinmonger (Reply #24)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 08:25 PM
Confusious (8,317 posts)
26. Since I was organizing my collection
of math books, here's a list of categories
Basic Math: algebra III geometry trig Intermidiate calc III diff eq linear algebra (not the algebra we're talking about) discrete math advanced: number theory algorithms diff geometry set theory topology combinatorics analysis algebraic geometry ( not the basic algebra or geometry) group theory graph theory There's a lot more categories in intermidiate and advanced math. Algebra and geometry are basic math. if you can't do basic algebra, you can't do anything after, not even geometry. 
Response to Confusious (Reply #26)
Thu Aug 2, 2012, 06:50 PM
xocet (3,167 posts)
48. Nice math library....
Do you have any good books on projective geometry by chance?

Response to alp227 (Original post)
Sun Jul 29, 2012, 04:28 PM
dballance (5,756 posts)
9. I think Mr. Hacker's Supposition is Completely OffBase
Math (algebra) is everywhere in our daytoday lives. As other posters have pointed out store clerks now can't seem to make change if the register doesn't tell them what it should be. How do you figure what that 20% tip amount for your server should be without math?
How do you convert gallons to quarts or cups to quarts or any number of one measurement to another while cooking without math? I can't count the number of time I've had to remember how to convert teaspoons to tablespoons because I could't find my tablespoon in my wellorganized kitchen Yards to feet or meters? Fahrenheit to Celsius? All math some of it algebra. How about that flower bed you're planting? How are you going to figure out how big it is so you buy the right amount of mulch or soil when you go to Home Depot. With a little geometry I'd say. Sure, lots of people can safely stop taking math courses after completing the basic algebra and geometry courses required by high schools and of freshmen in college. They'll never use calculus or differential equations. But I believe those basic courses are necessary. They don't just teach us math, they teach us a bare minimum level of logic and how to reason as well. If you become an attorney you certainly don't need calculus but you need to be able to use logic and reasoning. If you are a navigator on a ship or plane I'd bet there is some pretty specific math involved in plotting courses that could not be mastered without the basics of algebra or geometry. Lots and lots of kids fail their reading classes. We don't just decide to punt reading courses because they are causing students to miss other developmental opportunities. We work with the kids and help them learn to read. I'd guess that some of that help comes in the form of handholding and some of it through assigning stories, essays and books for practice reading. As one poster pointed out the more problems he worked the easier it became. So maybe we need to look into more handholding and practice for math like for reading. Yes, I know the obvious flaw in that statement given the pressure on school budgets and cutting teachers. And I can't say parents should just take up the slack because so many of them are working mulitple jobs to keep their families afloat. My answer to those problems is let's stop spending more on weapons than all the rest of the world combined and spend some of that on education so we can help kids "get" math. Yep  Pollyanna moment I know. 
Response to dballance (Reply #9)
Sun Aug 5, 2012, 08:44 PM
Genghis_Sean (39 posts)
53. English vs. Math different argument
Reading comprehension and the ability to write well are an asset to probably 90% of available jobs even if it only involves expressing a letter of interest to acquire the job in the first place. What percentage of jobs use algebra, though? It would be interesting to compare our education to the world's best educational system. Isn't that the Netherlands? I'm guessing they would probably agree with him. If kids decide to go into a mathrelated field, they could probably pick it up pretty quickly. My suspicion why we insist on teaching it to everyone is because it's easy to test students and compare schools across the country.

Response to Genghis_Sean (Reply #53)
Mon Aug 6, 2012, 02:42 AM
dballance (5,756 posts)
54. Interestingly Enough Writing and Comprehension were important at my "technical" University
I attended college at what was widely known as an "engineering college" in my state. It cranked out some of the best engineers around.
However, one of the things that used to piss off the engineering majors was the number of English Comp courses they had to take and an emphasis in many of the more technical courses on writing well. They got assigned essays to write and presentations to make  before Powerpoint  in their engineering courses and failing grades on the these would impact their overall course grade. I always thought it was a fantastic thing. 
Response to Genghis_Sean (Reply #53)
Tue Mar 26, 2013, 06:22 PM
trixie (867 posts)
66. thats just it
Every field is a math related field. I am a librarian and use algebra every day. I use geometry every day. Why would I spend tax dollars on a set of books that doesn't fit my shelf? I also am a department head and so I do the payroll, which includes the pensions, investments etc.
My MLS got me the job, my degrees in math and business flew me to the top of my field. 
Response to alp227 (Original post)
Sun Jul 29, 2012, 04:45 PM
mbperrin (7,672 posts)
10. This is a crosspost from the Onion, right?
Well, I'd say Hacker is just too stupid to take on in an argument.
If not for algebra, I wouldn't be able to retire comfortably any day I choose from here. Without geometry, I would have paid $46,000 for a greenhouse that cost me $7000 to design and build myself. And on and on. Barriers to learning? Mostly just turn the phones off and pay attention rather than texting your buds in class about lunch today. 
Response to mbperrin (Reply #10)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 07:09 PM
Goblinmonger (22,340 posts)
21. Your last sentence
makes me picture a crankly old man sitting in his rocker on his porch yelling at the kids.

Response to Goblinmonger (Reply #21)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 11:18 PM
mbperrin (7,672 posts)
36. I would invite you to room 160 at Odessa High School for any class period after school starts on
August 28. Write any message you want in 6" or 8" or foot high letters on the board. Point to it, read it aloud, then tell the class to copy it and turn it in within 60 seconds for an immediate "A' for the first 3 weeks' progress report.
I've done this for three years now, and just about half the class asks what we're doing as people rise to turn in their paper. Trying to control cell phones is the toughest classroom issue I've had in 17 years of teaching. BTW, the school has a zero tolerance policy for them, and charges $15 for every phone picked up by a principal. I have been voted favorite senior social studies teacher 14 out of 17 years, and I believe it is because I am a cranky old man who yells at kids and shows he actually gives a damn about them. 
Response to mbperrin (Reply #36)
Tue Jul 31, 2012, 09:19 AM
Goblinmonger (22,340 posts)
41. The issue I'm working on as school starts this fall
is just what you are mentioning as far as attention in the classroom. I just don't place all the blame on the mantle of the cell phone. I don't think zero tolerance policies help. We didn't have zero tolerance policies when I was a kid for paper and pencil because we passed notes (and we did plenty).
I will try your hand it in activity. Sounds like a good experiment. Do you do it right before progress reports are due? 
Response to Goblinmonger (Reply #41)
Tue Jul 31, 2012, 10:23 AM
mbperrin (7,672 posts)
43. I do it at the end of the first week of class.
That gives it some real value  the potential of an early locked in grade.
The zero tolerance written policy is totally ineffective, because I won't get into an argument with someone over handing over a phone. That's a power struggle you can't win unless you're willing to taze someone But the huge majority of class early in the year really will be texting in their laps as if they were invisible to me. I try to work on the natural consequences of not paying attention, and I have a 21/2% plea. Our classes are 5 days each @ 48 minutes, and that's about 21/2% of your entire week (168 hours). So unlike your coaches who want 110% of whatever, I want 21/2%. Be here physically and be here mentally for that 21/2%, and you will have success. When report card grades come out, I also have them selfevaluate. The form has a place for absences, tardies, the grade they got, the grade they wanted, why the difference if there is one and so on. Selfmonitoring and selfcontrol are keys to success, I think, and so I work on that as well as the subject matter. Hope you have a great year! 
Response to alp227 (Original post)
Sun Jul 29, 2012, 10:28 PM
knitter4democracy (14,350 posts)
12. This English major took up through Calc II.
My dad, an engineer, said I had to or he wouldn't pay for college, and I made sure to thank him for it later. The basic rule in math is that, in taking the next level class, you understand the level before so much better. After geometry, you understand algebra better, and after calc, you understand trig better.
In reality, we use algebra every day. We solve for variables and come up with equations all the time, even if we don't call it that. I always make sure to point out to my high school students whenever we use math, and when I teach a knitting class, I make sure to explain all of the math (we use a lot of algebra in knitting and even some trig). Of course, we've been using the Chicago method to teach, which is part of the problem. We need to switch to Saxon, a method that actually works. 
Response to alp227 (Original post)
Sun Jul 29, 2012, 11:28 PM
pokerfan (27,677 posts)
13. Bizarre
Student: "I hate story problems." Teacher: "Life is a series of story problems." 
Response to alp227 (Original post)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 01:17 AM
struggle4progress (98,165 posts)
14. I taught math for many years. During that time, I never promoted the view
that music (say) or political science or biology or history or literature or spanish, or any other field of human knowledge, was worthless. But I did regularly encounter people who were willing to tell me that my subject was pointless or that those who taught it were sadistic eggheads or any of a number of other idiocies
I actually expect that most of the teachers of music or political science or biology or history or literature or spanish could tell me similar stories about idiotic attacks on the subjects they loved and taught It's really time to start ignoring the loud noisy blowhards, who are convinced that all would be right in education, if only we would stop teaching children spanish (say) or music or math. Let's give kids an opportunity to get a good general knowledge base, and then they can pick intelligently where they want to go next 
Response to struggle4progress (Reply #14)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 07:15 PM
Goblinmonger (22,340 posts)
22. I get the same comments about English.
I took the OP article a different way. A way I agree with. Perhaps that is my own information processing error. I think the point is that not everyone needs to take Algebra. I don't think it is an argument that we shouldn't teach math to students, but, instead, give them what they are ready for and what they will need. Not everyone needs to prep for trig and then calculus. Teaching reallife math examples about how to figure square footage for projects around the house does not need to come from a geometry class, per se, but we could redesign math classes to meet needs of those not going into math fields. Teaching it the way we have just because it's the way we have is not a good reason to continue.
And I entered college as an engineering major and still love math and am still in awe of those things that initially made me consider engineering even though I teach literature and writing. 
Response to Goblinmonger (Reply #22)
Tue Jul 31, 2012, 03:51 PM
struggle4progress (98,165 posts)
45. No doubt you do get similar idiotic remarks about English. But I'm not about to make
such remarks myself, since I am quite convinced that good language skills are essential for critical thinking
But mathematics is, imo, also a critical reading and writing skill I really can't see any reason students shouldn't get broad exposure to a variety of topics 
Response to struggle4progress (Reply #45)
Tue Jul 31, 2012, 03:54 PM
Goblinmonger (22,340 posts)
46. I am not against the broad exposure. I think it is important.
But algebra as a stepping stone to trig and then calculus is not what a lot of students need. Expose them to math, but make it more practical and less theoretical for those students. We need to meet the students where they are. Not all kids are ready for nor need advanced motifs and symbolism and other advanced literary concepts.

Response to Goblinmonger (Reply #46)
Thu Aug 2, 2012, 07:19 PM
xocet (3,167 posts)
49. How about this argument....
"I am not against the broad exposure. I think it is important.
But the parts of speech as a stepping stone to diagramming sentences and then writing is not what a lot of students need. Expose them to English, but make it more practical and less theoretical for those students. We need to meet the students where they are." Should the basics of English be skipped too? Algebra is as basic as using interrogative pronouns and interrogative adverbs. 
Response to struggle4progress (Reply #14)
Tue Jul 31, 2012, 03:49 AM
HiPointDem (20,729 posts)
39. +1. Every kid should know the basics of everything. Math, art, music, science, history, PE,
English, geography, foreign languages, shop, home ec, etc.
Not to do so = people who can't participate fully in society, and don't have any base for future learning they might want to do on their own, r/t work, to teach their own kids, etc. 
Response to struggle4progress (Reply #14)
Tue Mar 26, 2013, 06:26 PM
trixie (867 posts)
67. I find it interesting that math and music go hand in hand
Once I knew that math and music go together I could play an instrument. I am very bad musically but good with math.

Response to alp227 (Original post)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 04:56 AM
RobertAustin (23 posts)
15. Better ways to change math education
First and foremost, we have to stop telling very young, impressionable children that mathematics is difficult. It makes sense, is inherently interesting, and is easy to learn, for those not constantly being bombarded with messages telling them the opposite.
Second, we need to make certain teachers are free to teach mathematics, and other subjects, in atmospheres free of intimidation and bullying. Teachers cannot do their best work when terrorized by overpaid and abusive administrators. If we can put an end to that problem, by thinning the ranks of our nation's overlylarge administrative army, teaching in all subjects will improve, as will student achievement. To do something about that problem, we are petitioning Congress. You may find the petition here, and, if you agree with it, please sign it, and tell others about it as well: http://www.change.org/petitions/thecapeducationreformproposalsaveamericasschoolsbycuttingadministratorspaywithfederallegislation 
Response to RobertAustin (Reply #15)
Thu Aug 23, 2012, 12:06 PM
CRK7376 (1,716 posts)
58. Math has never
been easy for me. It's not interesting and it doesn't make sense to me. I do not bad mouth the subject,except in jest. Although I do tell folks that it is extremely difficult for me, that I dislike the subject. I do understand how interconnected we are to math, that multiple fields collide with math. I'm thrilled to see NASA success and wish I were better at math so as to truly enjoy and better understand physics and astronomy. But i still don't like math....

Response to alp227 (Original post)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 08:44 AM
ehrnst (15,850 posts)
16. More so than memorizing multiplication tables...
My son's math teacher talked with us about the need for early algebra, and the need to teach the use of calculators.
Since calculators are everywhere, we can skip many of the drills, and get straight to the essence of math  which is what you need to build on. 
Response to ehrnst (Reply #16)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 06:38 PM
LWolf (46,166 posts)
17. It drives me crazy that my middle school students come to me with no mental math skills.
I don't teach math any more, but I've been shocked at how calculator dependent they are.
Calculators are fine, necessary in some applications, and time savers, true. Students must be taught to use them. But...I can do much of what they are entering into their calculators in my class in my head, much faster than it takes them to reach for the calculator and punch the buttons. If my batteries aren't working, if my calculator is broken, if I forgot it or lost it, or just don't happen to have it in the near vicinity, I can still figure things out. My students can't. Mine is not a math class; any math we do is secondary, not instructional. In the current wave of "data" ruling all, though, my Language Arts and Social Studies classes deal with their own data. A memorization of facts allows us to do more complex mental math without a calculator; I think that's important. Of course, learning those facts does not preclude algebra strands in younger students classrooms. I know, because I taught both. When I taught younger students, I had 3rd graders who knew their facts, could do extended math problems in their heads, AND deal with simpler variables. It doesn't have to be either/or. That's why I didn't join this particular topic when I first saw it; I can argue equally legitimately for both sides of the argument. I just know that each side of the argument, while having valid points, is incomplete. 
Response to ehrnst (Reply #16)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 09:05 PM
Igel (27,717 posts)
29. No.
The kids should leave high school with some skill in math. They can use arithmetic. They should at least know that.
Many of my juniors can't do mental arithmetic beyond adding and subtracting two single digit whole positive numbers. Fractions? Just no. Most don't know basic concepts. Commutativity is what a felon hopes happens to his sentence. (At least that gets them some English.) 5 x 3349/5 requires a calculator. You mustn't regroup 5/5 x 3349 = 1 x 3349. No, no, no. And if the calculator tells you the answer is .9934, well, does the calculator make mistakes? You don't want to know what x/x could equal. Many have no algebra skills. They get x = 23. If you say y = x + 3 and x = 23 and give them a calculator they can tell you what y equals. A majority might, on a good day, be able to tell you the slope. "It's the rise over run. Or the run over rise. One of those. I think." They taught them little in elementary school and, you know what? They built on that foundation. So let's go ahead and teach formal symbolic logic to those at the concreteoperational stage. Time to learn Chinese. 
Response to ehrnst (Reply #16)
Tue Jul 31, 2012, 03:52 AM
HiPointDem (20,729 posts)
40. imo going to calculators immediately = fake education. for mathminds who intuitively grasp the
relationships, it works.
for nonmath people like myself it would leave a gaping lacuna. i didn't get the relationships  i needed the physical demonstration of the concept & the times tables. 
Response to alp227 (Original post)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 08:32 PM
mia (5,509 posts)
27. The Beauty of Algebra.
Response to alp227 (Original post)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 08:32 PM
liberal N proud (57,385 posts)
28. We wouldn't want to challenge students!
Another moronic attack on our education system.

Response to alp227 (Original post)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 09:16 PM
Lemonwurst (108 posts)
31. Ugh... algebra is painfully easy...
No, I'm not trying to put anyone down who currently doesn't understand it, hated it during school, or feels they learned it but have since never used it. It can be easy, gradeschool easy, if taught a certain way. And early. Very early in life, even.
And people do use algebra all the time, evidenced by the many examples others have offered. The problem is likely how it's taught. I was lucky, I liked algebra early on. Maybe it was my inherent math skills, but I'd give the real credit to my teachers. They knew how to make it easy to understand. How to explain the basic concept on which to build. Yes, I was lucky. But anyone, not just school teachers, can help others understand algebra. Do you run a marathon without first learning to jog? To stretch? Algebra is a mental exercise related to math, but foundational for many types of congitive reasoning. I'd venture that many of those to who read DU have a strong desire to reason things out, and algebra can be an exercise that strengthens mental reasoning capacity. And as I claim, it's easy. If your teachers made it hard, I'm sorry to hear that. But try again every chance you get. The 15% markdown or 20% tip is a great place to start. 
Response to Lemonwurst (Reply #31)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 09:36 PM
mia (5,509 posts)
34. Plus, searching for the unknown can be lots of fun.
1 + X = 2 begins in kindergarten. Kids love a mystery.

Response to alp227 (Original post)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 09:22 PM
d_r (5,713 posts)
32. ugh math hard
must make easy school for peoples don't need maths

Response to alp227 (Original post)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 09:34 PM
madrchsod (58,162 posts)
33. my mind does`t compute algerbra
i failed three times in high school. my brain is not programmed for written algebra, geometry,and trigonometry.
i can drive a rear steering forklift while lifting a load to a top self in a narrow aisle way.figure out the geometry and trig on those maneuvers. oh yes, lets put in the the weight figures on load, the forklift`s counter weight,speed and braking distance. mulitply these equations by the number of minutes or hours that i work. then put and put all those figures into a computer generated visual. 
Response to madrchsod (Reply #33)
Sat Aug 18, 2012, 05:28 PM
mbperrin (7,672 posts)
56. See? You DO understand algebra.
You just didn't understand that teacher, who may or may not have been talented in any way teaching to various people.

Response to alp227 (Original post)
Mon Jul 30, 2012, 10:45 PM
Igel (27,717 posts)
35. No. It's not.
When I graduated college I was convinced everybody needed, at a minimum, vector calculus. We live in a 3D universe full of related rates and time derivatives, dripping gradients and curls. How can you *not* need vector calculus? Right, laugh. But the point holds: It's damned useful. The concepts are everywhere. The calculations? Not so much.
Algebra's the same. A lot of kids need bits of algebra and geometry and trig. Teach what they need to know. The biggest demand is for 2year college students. Not 4year. Next biggest are specific STEM fields. My high school valedictorian was a whiz at alg. and geometry and trig. He learned it from the master machinist in machine shophe was a machinist's apprentice. He learned it in application. He'd have failed trig. Or geometry. He needed relevance. Kids cry out for it. Give it to them. I teach regulars science. If you are decent at science or interested, you're in preAP or AP. You're not in my class. The top 25% is bled off. If average starts at 100and that's close, since they renorm the tests from time to timethen my students' average is below average. They have to have the full gamut of math and science to encourage them, students disproportionately with IQs of 99 and below, to pursue careers in science and engineering and medicine. You know, they shouldn't build bridges. Some will be hair dressers and fry cooks. Some might do 2year tech stuff with joy. There's a place for each. Put them in the same class and it's not good. It's the same for most of the math classes. Alg I and II aren't useful for everybody. They don't need it. It really makes it harder to teach those who do need it when 1/3 of the class sits there and says, "Pointless. Screw you, I don't need this." College bound should have Alg I, II, and geometry should also be explicitly taught as formal logic. It's not around here. A class built around logic and it's reduced to formulaic SASs and identification of shapes. Massive application of MTP: Miss the point. Vocation track should have Math 10 and 11. It should include some stats, life skills, basic algebra in applications. Review fractions (my juniors last year had trouble with fractions, serious trouble with fractions). 
Response to Igel (Reply #35)
Tue Jul 31, 2012, 03:41 AM
HiPointDem (20,729 posts)
38. "He learned it in application". I had a similar experience. The way i was taught math was very
conceptual, & i'm not a math person or an abstract conceptual person  i didn't get it & i turned off.
Later in life i had to learn pieces of algebra in application. It came very easily. I was amazed how easily because I'd always regarded algebra as some kind of really difficult abstract thing. I had a mathguy teacher who, when you said you didn't get it, he'd just reexplain it in the way he'd already explained it  which made total sense for all the mathguy students, but left the rest of us frustrated & feeling ignorant (he was kind of an arrogant guy, too  my family knew him personally)  so maybe he liked making people feel dumb. He is the one teacher i had that i felt was totally useless. 
Response to alp227 (Original post)
Fri Aug 3, 2012, 04:51 AM
ICDpress (8 posts)
50. Necessary?
Algebra is necessary in many ways. However, it can be taught in a manner where students enjoy and learn it without struggling too much.

Response to alp227 (Original post)
Fri Aug 3, 2012, 08:48 AM
DetlefK (13,348 posts)
52. (x² + y²)² = (x²  y²)² + (2xy)² Solve it, or else.
If you can't solve this, then I won't trust your statistical/mathematical/financial analysis.
It takes less than thirty seconds to proof this! The quadratic terms are equal and the linear ones cancel each other? Come on! This is not about calculation. This is about identifying elements of a bigger picture and finding the pattern behind it. 
Response to alp227 (Original post)
Fri Aug 17, 2012, 09:19 PM
skippercollector (206 posts)
55. my GOOD experience with algebra
I have been reading on numerous forums about whether or not one needs to be taught algebra. I guess my experiences are, as usual, completely different from everyone else's.
I was a poor math student in grade school, struggling with the basics. I also struggled with plane geometry in eighth grade. But my scores have always been off the charts in reading comprehension and related subjects. I was introduced to basic algebra in seventh and eighth grade at a Catholic elementary in the mid1970s. Algebra was the one form of math I NEVER struggled with. I also took two years of algebra plus a geometry class (the theorems, not the measurements) at a Catholic girls' high school in the late 1970s. I did not take any advanced math classes after my junior year, and it was not required at the college I attended. (My dad took calculus three times in college before he passed it, so I guess my lack of love for numbers is hereditary.) I don't remember any of my classmates struggling with algebra the way I've been reading about it now. Was it taught differently in the 1970s? Was it taught differently at a private school? Or is the algebra being taught today completely different from what I learned 35 years ago? I LIKED algebra! I've theorized it's for two reasons. One is that it is largely letters and words, not numbersI never had difficulty figuring out basic word problems. The other is that I was born with horrendous eyesight and I cannot always see in three dimensions, so I don't visualize pictures in my head in 3D. (I never learned to read music and have always been incredibly unathletic as well, both of which are, I believe, related problems, but they're another story.) I studied communications in college and wrote for a newspaper for 17 years. In the mid1990s the office got its first computers and I was taught page layout in a program called Quark. I vividly recall the first time I tried laying out a page with preset columns and inches. As I moved the cursor across the screen to place an article, I could see the X and Y coordinates on the graph on the screen changing with any movement I made. Has ANYONE had an experience with algebra similar to mine? Or am I the ONLY one? 
Response to alp227 (Original post)
Thu Aug 23, 2012, 12:35 PM
CRK7376 (1,716 posts)
59. Lots of good points in all
the discussions here, but as Jimmy Buffet so eloquently sings, "Math Sucks!" I just don't like the stuff, struggled with it for years. Have used it for years, but still don't like the stuff. I never had a teacher that showed me why and how to use the nasty stuff beyond the basics. All I can say is that I was thrilled that Algebra I and Geometry were the only maths I had to pass in the middle '70s to get into college. Fortunately my college allowed me to take 3 semesters of science or math. I chose science and still had to do math and that's why my gpa was so low.
Yes I understand and do mostly basic math every day, but I don't enjoy it, with a few exceptions. I'm a pretty good jumpmaster, I put my paratroopers on target when and where they are supposed land. I can calculate the wind drift as it applys to the size of drop zone I use, to the number of jumpers I can put out of an aircraft over a specific distance and time required to land them safely. Once I get my troops on the ground we can walk for hours on a compass heading and we hit the right target, time and distance...simple math right, but math I have to work really hard to get right. Then dealing with things that go bang! Lots of us are true believers in the explosives world of "more is better." But in reality it is often "less is more." Then there is the cooking and baking and fractions I have to do when following recipes. I don't like it, but I do it and Math Still Sucks! Thank you mathematicians, I'm glad it's you and not me. 
Response to alp227 (Original post)
Wed Feb 6, 2013, 06:18 PM
mbperrin (7,672 posts)
64. Seems pretty obvious that political science is certainly a waste of time and energy.
I mean, if it leads to this level of discourse by a "distinguished" political scientist, it's obviously hurtful for the higher learning functions.
So thanks, Hacker (really? a real name?) for showing through your actions that we need to discontinue political science as a course of study. 