is algebra necessary? andrew hacker thinks not.
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.i will not get into the importance of algebra, which conveys a specific know-how of meta-numeric abstraction that pertains to operations and relations of all kinds in science, which is why algebra is an extension and generalization of arithmetic.
functions? the hell with it. equations? what for? algebra is unbearably painful:
Why do we subject American students to this ordeal?"ordeal"? is algebra difficult "in itself", anymore than, say, history? granted, if one hates history learning it can be an ordeal. but as any student knows, struggling has a necessary positive side. there 's nothing closer to loving math than struggling with it and getting it.
there is nothing "intrinsic" about algebra that makes it harder than any other subject. we see it that way because we've become math-challenged. why? math takes, well, effort, something many students (and teachers) today are not interested in for reasons they don't understand.
hacker senses a dead end, but is not flexible enough to admit his math phobia has nothing to do with math.
It’s true that students in Finland, South Korea and Canada score better on mathematics tests. But it’s their perseverance, not their classroom algebra, that fits them for demanding jobs.algebra, history, philosophy; take any subject. discounting sheer aptitude, isn't it perseverance what makes a student score better at a given subject? following his own idea, what hacker should ask is why american students don't persevere. the reason our education sucks is not underfunded schools, not mediocre teachers, not archaic methodologies, not poor learning environments. it's mathematics!
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 2008-9, 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.who are these educators? (we'll never know). now we're ready for hacker's cuckoo case:
1. algebra is a required course in high school and college.
2. studying algebra is an "ordeal"
3. students suck at algebra.
4. students suck at algebra because of 2.
therefore, algebra shouldn't be a required course in high school and college.
care for one more? making math mandatory can actually hide & warp young talent:
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.no wonder american trails the world in math & science:
In general knowledge of mathematics, American 12th graders did better than those in only two countries, Cyprus and South Africa. Students in four countries, Italy, Russia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic, performed at the same level as those in the United States. Fourteen countries outperformed America, led by the Netherlands and Sweden. The results were similar for science. The advanced mathematics assessment was given to students who had taken or were taking precalculus, calculus or Advanced Placement calculus, and the advanced physics assessment to students who had either taken or were taking physics or Advanced Placement physics. In advanced math, 11 countries outperformed the United States and no country performed more poorly; in physics, 14 countries did better than the United States and none did worse.
at this point you realize hacker is not a subtle thinker.
hacker is not necessarily arguing that math is not an important subject. all he is saying is that it shouldn't be required. never mind that being a decisively important branch of human knowledge, a reliable educational system shouldn't leave it up to young students whether they take -or not- algebra. they hate it now, but may love and/or need it tomorrow. what then? mathematics is a knowledge-cumulative enterprise, i.e, the more you know the more you're ready to know.
i don't doubt that at some point we'll hacker algebra (we're down that path already, which is why hacker's article appears in the new york times opinion section). here is the scenario: to make our students happy, we'll make math an elective. only science students and nerds will take it, but since math was -already- not required in high school, they will perform much worse than they do today. it doesn't matter. we will import chinese, korean, indian, finnish and russian mathematicians to do the hard work for us. having spent their youth miserably studying math and science, they will be more than eager to exchange their pain for our half-witted, self-induced, math-challenged limbo (all the way to the bank).