Author Topic: Is Algebra Necessary?  (Read 4093 times)

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Offline shnozzola

Is Algebra Necessary?
« on: September 02, 2012, 08:00:55 PM »
Has anyone else heard that this opinion from the NY Times is becoming a real debate? With my average understanding of algebra, I use it and think we need to continue using it – but not everyone agrees. 

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/opinion/sunday/is-algebra-necessary.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=general#commentsContainer

Quote
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.

http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2012-08-29/algebra-necessary/transcript
Quote
Last month, Professor Andrew Hacker of Queens College questioned the role and value of learning algebra. He says the course is a stumbling block for many students, and hurts both high school and college graduation rates. But critics argue algebra is essential for learning critical thinking skills needed in everyday life.

Professor Andrew Hacker:
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Okay. My basic question is, why are we making every student take algebra? And, by the way, various myths and mantras grow up around a subject like this. For example, the notion that algebra somehow enhances, sharpens your critical thinking skills. Total myth. Let me take this, let's suppose over here are 10 people who have mastered algebra, and another 10 over here who have not. Are you going to tell me that the people who have mastered algebra have better thinking ability, are more thoughtful about politics, society, have better marriages, make better decisions about what we should do with a country like Syria.         

 Please do not assume that you have to go to a math book to sharpen your mind. You can read "Emma Bovary." You can read "The Great Gatspy." You can take a course in anthropology. Math is not the key to a sharp mind. And, in fact, I'm really believing more and more that the kind of thinking skills that math encourage are really constrictive because there's a very cold logic to math, whereas if you study anthropology you'll discover there are much more variation in the world.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/yes-algebra-is-necessary/2012/07/30/gJQAr6xMKX_blog.html

http://www.sunclipse.org/?p=1064

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Towards the end, Hacker’s reasoning gets just bizarre. He keeps emphasising how important “citizen statistics” is. I’m baffled as to how one could teach statistics in any useful way without the material he wants to throw out! Prerequisites: we needz them. “Is Algebra Necessary?” If you want to do statistics or economics, yes, it is
« Last Edit: September 02, 2012, 08:21:48 PM by shnozzola »
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Online jaimehlers

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #1 on: September 02, 2012, 08:17:58 PM »
...what?

Are people seriously arguing about whether algebra is a necessary skill?

People may not realize it, but almost everyone uses algebra informally at least some of the time.  Anytime you have an unknown variable that you have to solve for, that's algebra.  I.e., "If I have $10, and I want to buy some bottles of soda which cost 90 cents after tax, how many can I afford?"  Algebra just formalizes this mathematical process with written variables.

Offline shnozzola

Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #2 on: September 02, 2012, 08:23:16 PM »
I agree Ja - if you have time, read through the Diane Rehm transcripts for Professor Hacker's take against algebra
“The best thing for being sad," replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something."  ~ T. H. White
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Offline none

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #3 on: September 02, 2012, 09:10:07 PM »
here is the answer: "no or algebra isn't necessary to believe propaganda."
« Last Edit: September 02, 2012, 09:15:24 PM by none »

Offline Garja

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #4 on: September 02, 2012, 09:32:42 PM »
I dont think most people really need two full years of HS algebra to be productive, but basic algebra is pretty essential imo; and math is my least favorite subject.
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Offline jetson

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #5 on: September 02, 2012, 10:16:24 PM »
just give everyone a smart phone - call it a day.  Geez...

Offline LoriPinkAngel

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #6 on: September 02, 2012, 11:21:53 PM »
...what?

Are people seriously arguing about whether algebra is a necessary skill?

People may not realize it, but almost everyone uses algebra informally at least some of the time.  Anytime you have an unknown variable that you have to solve for, that's algebra.  I.e., "If I have $10, and I want to buy some bottles of soda which cost 90 cents after tax, how many can I afford?"  Algebra just formalizes this mathematical process with written variables.

Bah humbug, that's what credit cards are for.
It doesn't make sense to let go of something you've had for so long.  But it also doesn't make sense to hold on when there's actually nothing there.

Offline Mr. Blackwell

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #7 on: September 03, 2012, 12:30:04 AM »
Is Algebra necessary?

Depends on your needs. If you just need a nation full of mindless consumers then no, Algebra isn't necessary.

Why waste time and resources on people who are too dull to get it when all you need them to do is consume and occasionally vote?

If you want to be an engineer or a doctor or an economist or CPA or other such productive member of society then yes, Algebra is necessary.

If a child does not display an aptitude for academics at an early age he/she should be herded into other vocational type education. If little Johnny wants to be a doctor but he can't get a handle on basic sciences at an early age then sorry bout your luck. There are other noble careers which do not require math skills. Why condemn little Johnny to mediocrity just because he doesn't understand one particular subject?

It IS a waste of time and money to attempt to cram EVERYONE into one mold and then tell those who didn't fit that they are less worthy. It also gives those who do fit the current mold a false sense of superiority.   

In other words, why fail a kid who can't do math? Is there nothing else he is good at? What if the kid is brilliant with math but can't diagram a sentence and hates literature?
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Offline Willie

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #8 on: September 03, 2012, 12:43:07 AM »
The author makes some good points, but I think those points might have been better received if he had approached this from a different direction and as a broader issue rather than just picking on algebra. To me the right question to ask is:

Should we continue preventing people from developing and getting recognition for the skills that they're good at because of deficiencies in other areas?

Offline LoriPinkAngel

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #9 on: September 03, 2012, 12:54:42 AM »
The author makes some good points, but I think those points might have been better received if he had approached this from a different direction and as a broader issue rather than just picking on algebra. To me the right question to ask is:

Should we continue preventing people from developing and getting recognition for the skills that they're good at because of deficiencies in other areas?

Excellent point.  I suck at math.  And the math score dragged me down on every standardized test I ever took.  I got less scholarship funds, placed in non honors classes in other subjects because of the overall score, etc
It doesn't make sense to let go of something you've had for so long.  But it also doesn't make sense to hold on when there's actually nothing there.

Offline kindred

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #10 on: September 03, 2012, 01:03:28 AM »
Maybe the guy needs to change his priorities. If all you want to learn is the bare basics of how to survive than why go to high-school at all?

Algebra isn't necessary. So is the internet, so is chemistry, so is learning how to drive. All thats necessary is that you know how to make enough money to feed, clothe and shelter yourself.

The whole purpose of higher education, heck education itself is to teach you things that AREN'T integral to survival but will increase your quality of life by giving you more and more intellectual tools.
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Offline Willie

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #11 on: September 03, 2012, 02:26:56 AM »
People may not realize it, but almost everyone uses algebra informally at least some of the time.  Anytime you have an unknown variable that you have to solve for, that's algebra.  I.e., "If I have $10, and I want to buy some bottles of soda which cost 90 cents after tax, how many can I afford?"

Unless lagging badly behind, students can do that informal sort of algebra before taking their first algebra course.

Quote
Algebra just formalizes this mathematical process with written variables.

Yes. And in doing so, it provides a means to take on more complex problems. Solving systems of equations or quadratic equations using only the informal sort of "algebra" skill is nearly impossible. You'd practically have to re-invent algebra yourself in order to do it. You don't have to convince me. The value of algebra is clear enough. But that still doesn't mean that it is essential for everyone.

I love math. It's my favorite academic subject. And I'm especially fond of algebra. In fact, algebra marks the point for me where I really started to appreciate and enjoy math. I very much recommend algebra just as a fascinating subject in itself. And I recognize that it is essential for some occupations. But still, I'm very much against preventing people from continuing their education in non-dependent subjects or becoming qualified for non-dependent occupations just because they haven't been successful at algebra.
« Last Edit: September 03, 2012, 02:32:36 AM by Willie »

Offline jetson

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #12 on: September 03, 2012, 07:29:18 AM »
The world is changing - duh.  But humans don't embrace that change as fast as it arrives, because it disrupts the "normal" flow of things.  There are perfectly rational reasons for people to skip large chunks of what we like to call "basic" education.  What in the world did humans ever do before schools became the required way of teaching our children about the world, our language, and other concepts that help us move forward collectively?

I heard an argument to eradicate compulsory education in the U.S., and I have to say that I found little to disagree with on the basic idea.  We have to look at both sides of such an issue to fully understand that alternative approaches are not wrong simply because they deviate from a long tradition.  And how would we really know that eradicating compulsory will somehow fail our children?  Can anyone argue that we are not already failing our children with the current system?

In the end, the world is indeed changing, and it is not that much of a stretch to imagine that the way we always tend to do things, is not always the best way.  In fact, for many, it could be the worst way!  As we evolve our societies, don't we owe it to ourselves, and future generations to embrace the change that is inevitable, and look for ways to help our children get the type and quality of education that suits their individual needs?  How hard could that be, really?

Anyway, institutionalized education has a place in our society, in my opinion.  But making it a standard for "success" or "survival" may not be very wise as the world gets smaller, continues to change, and the availability of information becomes more and more ubiquitous.

Offline none

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #13 on: September 03, 2012, 07:34:41 AM »
People may not realize it, but almost everyone uses algebra informally at least some of the time.  Anytime you have an unknown variable that you have to solve for, that's algebra.  I.e., "If I have $10, and I want to buy some bottles of soda which cost 90 cents after tax, how many can I afford?"

Unless lagging badly behind, students can do that informal sort of algebra before taking their first algebra course.

Quote
Algebra just formalizes this mathematical process with written variables.

Yes. And in doing so, it provides a means to take on more complex problems. Solving systems of equations or quadratic equations using only the informal sort of "algebra" skill is nearly impossible. You'd practically have to re-invent algebra yourself in order to do it. You don't have to convince me. The value of algebra is clear enough. But that still doesn't mean that it is essential for everyone.

I love math. It's my favorite academic subject. And I'm especially fond of algebra. In fact, algebra marks the point for me where I really started to appreciate and enjoy math. I very much recommend algebra just as a fascinating subject in itself. And I recognize that it is essential for some occupations. But still, I'm very much against preventing people from continuing their education in non-dependent subjects or becoming qualified for non-dependent occupations just because they haven't been successful at algebra.
I like your propaganda.
what occupation doesn't require algebra?

Offline jetson

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #14 on: September 03, 2012, 07:35:39 AM »
A forum mod?   ;D

Offline Graybeard

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #15 on: September 03, 2012, 07:45:22 AM »
I’m surprised at the question; algebra is merely a part of mathematics, so the question queries the basis of teaching maths.

Much depends on how you want to live your life. There was the earlier example of “how many bottles of pop for $10?” then there is “How much does my electricity cost per unit?”, “How much of my tax goes on defence/welfare/public servants/roads, etc?” “What is the effect of reducing any of these by certain percentages?”

With the latter questions, you are beginning to understand the uses of math(s) – and, with maths, comes statistics. Government is based upon statistics; no one collects more stats than government. Stats can be tortured and manipulated to prove anything – particularly a political point. Without knowing the real answer, how do you know for whom to vote? If you don’t know, you are at the mercy of unscrupulous politicians who tell half-truths.

Learn and learn to use math(s).
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Online jaimehlers

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #16 on: September 03, 2012, 07:55:00 AM »
I disagree, Willie.  You have a point that people learn how to do that kind of informal problem-solving before they ever step foot in an algebra class, but given that was just an off-the-cuff example, it doesn't really prove much.  There's a critical point that you missed, which is that most students in 8th or 9th grade do not know their future occupation for certain.  For that matter, even college-age adults cannot often say for certain where they'll end up working in the long run.  We no longer live in the kind of society where a child can know early on what their occupation will be.  Certainly, they may not go into a field where algebra or higher math skills are necessary, but if we exclude algebra (and other math classes) from the required general curriculum, then they're going to be excluded from those fields by default unless they "opt in" by taking algebra class.

Furthermore, a person may not intrinsically be good with certain kinds of math.  For example, it took me two or three years in elementary school to get my head wrapped around fractions...yet I work in the computer science field, where understanding fractions is among the most basic of skills.  There would have been no way for me or anyone else to predict that I would go into this field back when I was eight, or sixteen for that matter.  I can understand the allure of saying that students shouldn't be required to take algebra unless they want to, but high school education is intended as a general education curriculum, preparing students to be able to take on a broad range of fields.  And while something like algebra isn't required for all fields, it's required for enough that not taking it would close a lot of doors until it is taken.

I just don't think that's particularly wise.  It emphasizes the short-term benefit of not having to take algebra class, at the long-term cost of closing off several dozen fields.  Certainly, jobs like manual labor, service jobs, and other things of that nature wouldn't be affected...am I forgetting any?  Many people end up having to work those kinds of jobs anyway, but by excluding algebra, it becomes far more likely, and much harder to get into a different field.

Offline HAL

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #17 on: September 03, 2012, 08:02:25 AM »
what occupation doesn't require algebra?

Professional wrestler
Portable outhouse cleaner
Comedian
Window washer
Dog sitter
Landscape maintenance
Plumber
...

Offline Anfauglir

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #18 on: September 03, 2012, 08:02:44 AM »
I'd rather have logic is schools than maths, to be brutally honest, but both teach logical and (to a degree) critical thinking. 

I'm torn about whether subjects for which students show no "aptitude" should become voluntary.  On the one hand, I support it, because at some point the meat of a subject becomes irrelevant for certain career paths - no need for differential calculus if you are a painter of landscapes.  But on the other hand, at what point do you make the cutoff?  Why make the cutoff for aptitude in maths at algebra level?  Why not at multiplication level?  Some kids wont have THAT aptitude, so why not cut them off there?  Again, how many painters need to multiply six by nine?

The question for me is where that basic cutoff should be - as jetson intimates maybe it IS at the "nothing" level for formal schooling?  Myself, I don't agree - as a parent governor at a primary school I see how little parents get involved with their children's schooling.  Without the 30 hours a week of SOME kind of lessons, we would - I guarantee - see a whole lot more children growing up illiterate and innumerate than under the current system, however flawed it may be.
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Offline Brakeman

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #19 on: September 03, 2012, 08:10:47 AM »
what occupation doesn't require algebra?

Plumber
...

What? Plumbers need math more than many occupations. They have to compute supplies, weights with water, pressure degradation in rises, water hammer pressure, and drain drop angle, and a number of other things.
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Offline Boots

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #20 on: September 03, 2012, 08:13:25 AM »
Honestly, there's a better solution to this issue.  The question should be tackled from a different angle: how is algebra (and all the maths) taught???

My wife is a math teacher.  She loves the actual teaching part--WHEN SHE'S ALLOWED TO DO IT THE WAY IT SHOULD BE DONE.  But with state- and federally-mandated testing of a huge variety of topics, teachers are forced to cram as much information as they can down students' throats.  They *must* "teach to the test" in order to keep their schools alive.

Teachers don't get the opportunity to give the students THEIR opportunity to understand the concepts behind the algorithms.  They are so time-crunched with the amount of material they need to cover that there isn't time to insure kids understand the "why," so they are obligated to get them to rote-memorize the "what and how" so they can pass their test.

Allow teachers to use the methods they're trained at, are expert in.  Allow teachers to put responsibility on the students and parents (another topic entirely, but a very salient one!) for the students' learning.  Allow teachers to use research-based teaching methods, rather than just rote memorization "because that's the way it's always been done."  Let teachers effing TEACH.  THEN this whole question will likely go away, because kids will be able to LEARN algebra--to UNDERSTAND it.
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Offline none

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #21 on: September 03, 2012, 08:20:05 AM »
A forum mod?   ;D
three strikes... simplified...
ban = member^2 + violations*member - chances.
ban = (member - 3) or (member + 1)
ban = (member + 3) or (member - 1)
ban = (member - 0) or (member - 0)
« Last Edit: September 03, 2012, 08:26:38 AM by none »

Offline none

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #22 on: September 03, 2012, 08:22:45 AM »
what occupation doesn't require algebra?

Professional wrestler
Portable outhouse cleaner
Comedian
Window washer
Dog sitter
Landscape maintenance
Plumber
...
I can agree with professional wrestler to an extent, and maybe comedian along with dog sitter.

Offline HAL

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #23 on: September 03, 2012, 08:25:19 AM »
I can agree with professional wrestler to an extent, and maybe comedian along with dog sitter.

And you can't agree with the others because ...  :o Don't be shy - explain.

Offline HAL

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #24 on: September 03, 2012, 08:26:09 AM »
three strikes... simplified...
ban = member^2 + violations*member - chances.
ban = (member - 3) or (member + 1)
ban = (member + 3) or (member - 1)
ban = (member - 0) or (member - 0)

LOL.

Offline none

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #25 on: September 03, 2012, 08:27:44 AM »
three strikes... simplified...
ban = member^2 + violations*member - chances.
ban = (member - 3) or (member + 1)
ban = (member + 3) or (member - 1)
ban = (member - 0) or (member - 0)

LOL.
it is not quiet accurate as I missed putting a negative sign preceding member in the solutions...

Offline HAL

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #26 on: September 03, 2012, 08:29:24 AM »
three strikes... simplified...
ban = member^2 + violations*member - chances.
ban = (member - 3) or (member + 1)
ban = (member + 3) or (member - 1)
ban = (member - 0) or (member - 0)

LOL.
it is not quiet accurate as I missed putting a negative sign preceding member in the solutions...

That's not exactly why I LOL'ed at it.

Offline pianodwarf

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #27 on: September 03, 2012, 08:30:27 AM »
I'd rather have logic is schools than maths, to be brutally honest, but both teach logical and (to a degree) critical thinking.

True.  And I don't really know enough about this kind of thing to have an opinion one way or another on whether algebra should be required for everyone.  However, I do know for sure that there are at least two fields that are definitely more important than algebra, however important algebra itself may be.

The first is, as you say, critical thinking.  I think quite a few of the problems the United States is facing would be solved, or at least ameliorated, by requiring a minimum of one high-school semester just on logical fallacies.  The other, even more crucial, is personal finance -- knowing how to balance your checking account, create and follow a budget, calculate a debt-to-income ratio, that kind of thing.  As regards this second one, in particular, I'm absolutely astonished (and, frankly, pretty pissed) that it was never offered to me in high school even as an elective course, let alone the mandatory course that it should be.  I regard this kind of knowledge as being almost as basic and vital as being able to read and write.
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Offline none

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Re: Is Algebra Necessary?
« Reply #28 on: September 03, 2012, 08:32:34 AM »
three strikes... simplified...
ban = member^2 + violations*member - chances.
ban = (member - 3) or (member + 1)
ban = (member + 3) or (member - 1)
ban = (member - 0) or (member - 0)

LOL.
it is not quiet accurate as I missed putting a negative sign preceding member in the solutions...

That's not exactly why I LOL'ed at it.
I guess it is just propaganda...