Algebra is always necessary

A New York Times opinion article came out recently stating how Algebra is a failing point in the American education system. The author states statistics and polls showing how the US is just not that good at math. Statements like

It could, for example, teach students how the Consumer Price Index is computed, what is included and how each item in the index is weighted — and include discussion about which items should be included and what weights they should be given.

do not line up at all. Stating that mathematic education needs to be less theoretical and more functional is a good point. I agree with him when he writes

I hope that mathematics departments can also create courses in the history and philosophy of their discipline, as well as its applications in early cultures. Why not mathematics in art and music — even poetry — along with its role in assorted sciences? The aim would be to treat mathematics as a liberal art, making it as accessible and welcoming as sculpture or ballet.

But math has little to no value without the basis that needs to be taught. How do we expect students to be able to handle statistics, harmonics, physics, economics, trends, or anything relatively advanced with just a basic knowledge in arithmetic? As a math minor, it would be great to see classes focused on math in the world around us in a purely mathematical sense. Right now, they are subdivided amongst their specialized majors, and are only accessible to students studying these fields. It would be ideal for students to have access to these classes, but without an underlying core understanding of algebra, what is the point? you cannot write a sentence without words, and words without letters. Mathematics is compounding as well: arithmetic, algebra, algebra ii, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, calculus ii, calculus iii, calculus iv, calculus v, advanced calculus, abstract algebra, linear algebra. These classes listed are pure math classes focused on the theoretical aspect. The part of math that one can only truly picture in their mind, and it is understandable when students clam that there is no real life application. The entire argument of a physics major is math in the real world, math in motion, math that a user can see.

Algebra starts by teaching us abstraction. We learn to deal with ideal environments, ones that the real world tries to emulate, but cannot due to the limitations of existence. But the ability to think abstractly is a skill that all people can use. To say that learning algebra made someone dumber is unheard of. Harder, yes, but not dumber. Stating that

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.

is just insulting. Do American students not try hard enough? Does that not imply that they should be taught to work a little harder. To persevere, to learn perseverance? It may seem like a slap to American parents and teachers; that the kids we raise are not outdoing children from other countries.

It is essentially contrary to what Hacker writes:

This need not involve dumbing down. Researching the reliability of numbers can be as demanding as geometry. More and more colleges are requiring courses in “quantitative reasoning.” In fact, we should be starting that in kindergarten.

His statement is not true at all: to remove algebra from the required school curriculum is to admit defeat. It is admitting that math is too hard for our next generation, and only the “few” who are good at it should even bother.

Yes, it is silly to make every student take calculus, but it is not required for graduation. Yes, it would be silly to make Linear Algebra a core requirement for graduation as well, but algebra is necessary. We use it in our every day lives, to calculate milage, cost, weight change, calculating tips, understanding coupons, and a million and a half other day to day calculations that we just do not think about. Algebra is necessary, to stop teaching it will only perpetuate the decline in the American public school system.


Link to NYTimes Article:

Is Algebra Necessary?

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