Remove Algebra? You Must Be Kidding.

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As a non-subscriber, I’m only treated to 10 New York Times articles a month, and when August began, one of the first articles I read was the opinion piece by Professor Andrew Hacker, who argued that Algebra is unnecessary in schools, and ought to be removed for 2 reasons – (1) Kids generally suck at it, and score twice as many Ds and Fs in it, than on other classes; 1 out of 4 fourth graders drop out before their high school graduation because they can’t cope with (oh god forbid) the Xs and Ys of algebra, and (2) that algebra is irrelevant to the math required out in the workforce.

On the first reason, Hacker states that math is a general impediment towards greater academic and educational attainment for students all across the United States, no matter their socio-economic status, the state they reside in, or the type of schools they attend. I quote, “Instead of investing so much of our academic energy in a subject that blocks further attainment for much of our population, I propose that we start thinking about alternatives.” In his opinion, that is to cut algebra. I’m not even going to lie and say that I am even the least bit okay with what he is saying. While it is good that proponents of alternative education strive to tackle pertinent problems in education, to dumb-down education is not the best solution. It seems almost counter-intuitive, a cop-out, even, to skirt around the core of the issue, which is likely the teaching method of algebra, rather than fundamental issues with the study of algebra. In addition, it is highly ridiculous that Hacker makes a stab at suggesting the United States shackles those talented in math and science, and even alter the national curriculum to suit the needs of failing students, rather than thinking up alternatives to elevate them to the academic / math level of their peers. This is especially pertinent as algebra isn’t something that only American children struggle with. Students from countries like South Korea and Finland (who score high on international tests) do too, but these countries that found ways to overcome the hurdle that is algebra.

The second reason disgusts me as well, for it reveals Hacker’s narrow construct of the goal of education, when he dismisses algebra as not being vocational enough. I get the sense that his view of education is highly utilitarian – if I think it’s not practical enough, let’s get rid of it. Perhaps then we should remove literature from the curriculum, because I’m sure when I become a doctor (etc), I won’t be sitting at my desk analyzing literature tests every second of the day. It’s irrelevant, and totally unnecessary – I mean, who needs critical analysis, creative thinking, as well as values like compassion and understanding towards people when they leave the bubble of high school? Even if we ignore the contentiously trite argument of algebra being not only relevant, but highly applicable to daily life, the pure rigor of the thinking in algebra classes is necessary to challenge students, and, if anything, wire the (left) brain’s capacity to understand logic, and that which is abstract.

Like a comment on the NY Times article read: Long Live Algebra! While there are changes to be made to raise the math standard of American education, the completely remove algebra and dumb down math is simply a blasphemous solution.

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