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Should Algebra Be Required?

Should algebra be a required subject?

Some people have questioned whether our students should be required to learn algebra. Andrew Hacker at the New York Times points out how many students struggle and fail algebra. The commenters, fortunately, point out all of his flawed logic. (Someone should summarize all of the great comments explaining why algebra should be required.)

Richard Cohen at the Washington Post makes the idiotic argument: “You will never need to know algebra. I have never once used it and never once even rued that I could not use it.”

His article is addressed by PZ Meyers at Science Blogs.

My favorite part:

If I had never heard a poem or listened to a symphony or read a novel or visited Independence Hall, I could probably dumbly write that I don’t miss literature, music, or history…never heard of ‘em. Don’t need ‘em. Bugger all you eggheads pushing your useless ‘knowledge’ on me!

This reminds me of when I was student teaching. The supervisor of my student teaching supervisor, a supposedly educated man with a PhD, said: I never took Calculus and have never regretted it. There has never been a time when I wish I had learned calculus.

What an idiot! (Sorry for being rude but it’s true.) If you don’t know a subject, how do you know if you couldn’t use it?

Everyone is impacted by economics. As a discipline, economics is based in calculus. I remember being in a general-ed economics class and sitting through long convoluted verbal explanations of marginal something-or-other. I thought to myself, “It’s the derivative stupid!” They are simply describing the change in the something-or-other given a small change in the input. (Sorry I don’t remember the details.) If everyone in the room had learned calculus, we could have covered a 2 hour lecture in 30 minutes.

So when could you use calculus? Everywhere! If, and only if, you understand it. The same is true for algebra.

Update: I just read a post by Chad Orzel, also at scienceblogs, that calls bullshit on the acceptance of innumeracy by intellectuals.

Update II: I wrote this thinking all of the articles were recent. (They showed up today in my news reader and I know this is currently being discussed elsewhere.) It turns out they are up to 6 years old. So please forgive my use of present tense. All of the arguments are still valid. Note to self: Check the publication dates on articles sent by Zite…

Cartoon from ToonPool.