Skip to comments.Does Your Job Really Require Algebra?
Posted on 08/08/2012 4:34:06 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
America has a math problem. We've had a math problem for at least fifty years - since the Soviets launched Sputnik, if not before. Our high school students have trouble competing with those raised in considerably poorer nations, and we aren't producing enough talented scientists and engineers to ensure our nation a leadership position in the twenty-first century knowledge economy.
If you think about it the right way, that's not just one math problem - it's two. You might think of improving math skills of both "average" students and the nation's top students as two birds that could be killed with one stone. But they aren't - in fact, some of the easiest ways to solve one problem make the other one worse. Our failure to recognize the distinction between these two problems helps explain why we've managed to spend so much time worrying about math in this country without ever improving the situation.
The tragedy of American mathematics can be told through the history of a single course: algebra. Two generations ago, algebra was a course reserved for elite students - perhaps the top 10%. It was taught exclusively in high school. The educators who designed the curriculum saw little point in teaching the abstract subject to students destined for careers in manual labor. A large proportion of those students who took the course would go on to use math in their careers: among male college students who graduated in the 1940s, for example, about 3 in 10 majored in a mathematically intense subject.
The pragmatic attitude towards mathematics for the masses gave way in the post-World War II era. Successive waves of curricular reforms sought to improve the mathematical skills of ordinary students. The "New Math" movement of the 1950s and early 60s tried to beef up the curriculum for all students, with disastrous results. By steering the curriculum away from practical application to a focus on fundamentals, new math managed to turn a generation of students off from math. Male college graduates raised in the new math era chose math-intensive majors at a rate of 20% -- down a third relative to the prior generation.
The new math movement waned, but an intense interest in improving the math performance of ordinary students persisted for more than a generation, culminating in the "No Child Left Behind" movement of the past decade. We now instruct our schools to prioritize the performance of the worst students, and impose no penalty if they neglect their top achievers in the process. Recent studies have confirmed that schools respond to these incentives.
Today, algebra is considered a "gateway" course seen as the most critical step toward college-readiness, rather than an abstract course useful only to a select few. About one-third of American students take algebra as eighth graders. In some states, more than half of all students take algebra in middle school. A few years ago, the California State Board of Education attempted to mandate that all students take algebra in eighth grade. Proponents of early algebra point out that students who complete the course at an earlier age are more likely to do all sorts of wonderful things later in their lives. While this observation is true, it best serves to illustrate the difference between correlations and cause-and-effect relationships. Presumably, the students who take algebra at a young age were precocious even before they took the course - that's how they ended up there in the first place.
Unfortunately, the misguided transformation of algebra into a course for the masses has proven to be a cure worse than the disease. The transformation has resulted in a less rigorous course. Introductory textbooks have slimmed down considerably over the past century, omitting some subjects entirely. The primary victims of this dumbing-down are the elite students themselves. Among the most recent cohorts of college graduates, the proportion of male students majoring in math-intensive subjects has continued to hover in the 20% range. If we compare this to the historical 30% rate of two generations ago, we lose about 100,000 mathematicians, scientists, and engineers every year - enough to replace every American employee of both Microsoft and Google and still have tens of thousands to spare.
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I took algebra 3 years in high school and once in college. I will never understand it or be able to do it on my own. At least I had a good teacher in high school were who able to “dumb” it down for me and explain things step-by-step (how I learn). When I was on my own, I was lost.
Geometry, on the other hand, piece of cake.
I work in a department that does what would have been called operations research (and was when I graduated from college a long time ago) and now is probably called industrial engineering. We basically try to optimize internal budget allocation in a large corporation. Algebra is one of many math requirements among other things like calculus, differential equations, familiarity with matrix operations, etc. The sad part is that I'm trying to hire someone with those same skills, and the pickings are mighty slim in the US educated applicant pool. Too many degrees in "gender studies," "dramatic arts," etc. and not enough in applied math, engineering, etc. The applicants from India and to a lesser extent China are much better prepared.
I never could grasp it on paper but know I use it in the physical sense.
As a factory foreman I would get an order for 1 skid of parts. I knew that it meant that I needed 270 individual parts or 9 boxes of 30.
As you said as with math or any other subject in school is the teacher , some are and some are not , I was lucky to have Mrs. Rhodes , and yes I use algebra almost every day.
My job even requires trigonometry sometimes.
Thankfully, no calculus.
I did and I did and I have no clue what I did nor why.
Algebra? I think most people use it every day, whether or not they’re aware of it. Not the y=mx+b stuff but word problems with variables. I suppose you can just call it advanced arithmetic, but it’s the kind of thing that’s covered in a first year algebra class.
I regularly use algebra in my work. Trig and linear algebra fairly often, calculus occasionally.
Womyn’s studies, “poli sci”, “Great Moments in LGBTQ History”, etc. — not so much.
No, but my ability to use what I do know to find out what I don't, with mathematical certainty, did.
> Does Your Job Really Require Algebra?
You betcha it does; not only algebra, but calculus, differential equations and matrices. There hasn’t been more than a 2 week period in the past 30 or 35 year period that I haven’t needed to use higher math.
If you go at a speed for the gifted student, the average student gets lost and never finds their way back.
You cannot treat students as a cooky-cutter assembly line, which is what almost all schools try to do nowadays.
Nothing like the smell of pimping for importing more guest workers in the morning.
We produce more STEM grads than we create jobs for; In addition our current STEM grads compete with off shoring, guest workers, and illegals (visa overstays).
I had the same professor for 30 hours of accounting in college.
He never used numbers.
Algebra teaches the valuable skill of abstraction - which the Greeks considered the fundamental element of being an educated person.
Anyone with a knowledge of elementary arithmetic can tell you that 3x3=9, 4x3=12, and 5x3=15. (This is “concrete” thinking.) But being able to detect some principle about “any number multiplied by 3” requires abstract thinking.
Applying this principle to FR: The press reports one story after another, counting on us to see them all as unrelated. The abstract thinker connects the dots and sees the bigger picture of what’s really going on.
And yes, I use algebra nearly every day in one way or another.
If students did their "fair share" by applying themselves in their studies, there wouldn't be any need for importing guest workers.
By the same token, I think we have plenty of qualified people...employers want to pay as little as possible.
The son of a friend of mine just finished a Ph.D in Math. My friend, a math-NUT, audited as many of his son’s classes as he could out of sheer joy. In speaking to one of the several Indian profs, he learned that scholarships in math at every level every year were untouched—millions of dollars’ worth in a relatively small Ohio school. The reason—American kids didn’t seem to feel the need for such grueling subjects. Too many other subjects led to an easier time in college and more money afterwards. And, of course, it’s not just math. Medicine’s suffering, too; and unfortunately the answer’s been limiting the basics and pushing the specialties (especially those dealing with athletes’ problems). The facebook/reality show generations.
I was a victim of New Math. Somehow I labored through Algebra and Geometry and I’m terrible at math. Every kid should get at least an introduction to it. If they never use it at least they can grouse about it for the next 40 years. LOL!!
The HORRORS!!! Next thing you know, consumers will want to pay the lowest price for goods and services too!!! And get the highest return for their investments... where does it all end??!?!?! Aiiigghhhh!
As an engineer, I took all the math up through differential equations. In all the jobs I’ve had since graduation, I don’t think I’ve used anything beyond fairly basic algebra and some trig. Even that stuff I mostly used in my second job (teaching SAT/ACT/GRE test prep to high school & college students), rather than in the engineering positions.
After a 35 year engineering career, I could probably still ace the SATs.
Oddly enough, I flunked math all through school and never took a course more advanced than Algebra. I once had a teacher tell me that I had no aptitude for mathematics whatsoever. She later counseled me to consider a liberal arts career. Today, some of the software that I worked on may be calculating her Medicare benefits. The irony is tasty.
My math skills are almost the exact same. I could never understand algebra but Geometry was a breeze. In later life I became an air traffic controller and geometry, especially seeing converging and diverging angles, became very useful.
In my profession if we see success researchers are eager to study it. The crudely put expression is “ all over it, like flies on s**t!”
This is one of many reasons that I have absolutely no respect for the government schools and those training teachers and developing curriculum.
My homeschoolers entered college at the ages of 13, 12, and 13. All finished all college general courses and Calculus III by the age of 15 Two finished B.S. degrees in mathematics by the age of 18. The oldest of the three majored in accounting and in now taking his CPA exams.
A few years ago, I found a math textbook from the 1930s at an antique mall. I bought it for 25 cents. Reading it was a revelation-the concepts were described clearly without confounding shortcuts and were carefully linked to real-world application. The formulae and tests were plain and clear, not omitted or embedded in methodology. It was as if scales were removed from my eyes.
When I was a boy, the old-timers beleived that the New Math was a communist plot to ruin American schoolkids. I used to laugh at them. But today, I wonder.
As a general rule, I don’t think I’ve ever learned anything in my life that I haven’t found a use for at one time or another.
I didn’t like Algebra in high school, but I took I and II. Then when studying electronics later, I had a lot of uses for it, plus having to learn some trig.
America doesn’t have an “algebra problem” so much as it has a “dumbed-down government school problem”. We’re bound to have a problem with higher math when there is not even a good understanding of basic math.
This is evident when you go to a store with a young person working as cashier...without an automatic register, they are hard pressed to count your change back to you.
When some high-schoolers have to struggle with the multiplication tables that most of us had to learn in 3rd grade, you know something is wrong.
Instead of pushing some students to learn, the schools cater to political correctness and just slow everyone else down. It’s pathetic.
The teachers unions, like all unions, create an environment of mediocrity amongst its members, education be damned. It’s all about the pay, the hours and the pensions.
Algebra can be tough, but a good teacher can make it happen. If they would grade on some curve, other than the Bell curve, America might regain its status in education.
The team can only go as fast as the slowest horse.
I have Aspergers, and for my whole life I have been unable to grasp the conceptual view of any mathematics beyond some simple addition and multiplication, my brain just cannot view it. Aspergers syndrom involves brain activity higher than normal, images are more vivid, colorful and happen more often, I best describe it as having a built in DVR, every day is being recorded and played back over and over.
Life is a movie screen in my brain, math just won’t play properly.
So year after year I fought with moronic teachers that it just would not compute, got so bad emotionally for me that I dropped out of high school after only three weeks into my sophomore year.
I started my own business as an auto recycler and later became a master mechanic, now I manage a concrete batch plant.
I don’t need to use algebra. I believe virtually everyone needs to understand, to some degree, algebra, calculus and trig and statistics so that they can grasp that there are tools to do difficult things. I have heard many people, and a few of them on FR, who dismiss any report or finding they cannot understand. The supposition apparently is that, if the reader can’t understand it, no one can.
A valid purpose to algebra, calculus and trig is to instill some humility into the math impaired
It is worse than that.
In many ways children ( whose only crime was being born) are treated like **prisoners**! All of their First Amendment Rights are crushed by government toadies ( misnamed teachers). Speech, press, assembly, and expression of religion are all very severely suppressed. They are marched around like prisoners. They are told when they can eat, use the restroom, and exercise. Their buildings look like **prisons** because that is the easiest way for the state to control them like prisoners.
Unlike hard time prisons, though, government schools are utterly godless. Any child who attends must think and reason godlessly just to cooperate in the classroom. How could it be otherwise?
In other words, government functionaries are teaching our nation's children to be compliant prisoners of the socialist state. If tyranny ever comes to the U.S. the fascist oligarchy will not use cattle cars. They will use big yellow school buses and the sheeple will willingly board them just as they have been trained to do by their government teachers.
When our Founding Fathers spoke about an educated public, they likely had their **own** educational experiences in mind. They would be appalled to see the Prussian military model and prison-like mistreatment that our nation's children suffer under every school day. They would call it what it is: Child Abuse.
You work with computers..you use it and need to know it
You work with computers..you use it and need to know it
You work with computers..you use it and need to know it
My grandson has Aspergers. It was evident from the time he was about 9 months old that he was not developing in the usual manner. He is now 7. His parents are homeschooling him. ( Good choice!)
H-1B's and the corollary called outsourcing contribute to the law of diminishing returns. For example, isn't it wonderful dealing with customer service reps located in Mumbai or Bumfuque, Egypt?
Thousands of foreigners enter the US to fill the jobs "that can't be filled", such as technology and engineering jobs. Why pay a certified American professional $100K, when you can hire that H-1B for half that.
It feeds on itself, various careers become less appealing as reality sets in.
Those of us who consider themselves entrepreneurial, or problem solvers, aren't fazed by this. These folks are great for project work where you the tasks are highly structured. Give them a task that requires independent thought, and they get wide-eyed with trepidation.
Competition is a wonderful thing, until it gets turned into crony capitalism through payoffs and bribes to government.
I work with hot steel and welding, I work as an operator of heavy equipment, I work with Snap On tools and Peterbilts.
It was wasted time to learn exotic math, a job working in sterile computer hive workplaces would have killed my free spirited ways.
I was never intended to become a drone. Give me fresh air, a decent highway and everyday challenges. The world needs computer geeks, I had a choice, I chose my destiny, I refused their reality and substituted my own.
They were so disappointed. And now I advocate basic life skills, getting food and shelter and thinking of survival during troubled times.
Rudimentary algebra can be understood by an average student at the 7th or 8th grade level. You don't have to go nuts on the subject or deep into the weeds. But a basic understanding of algebra gives a student a basic understanding of abstract thinking, and a leg up in science courses as well. If a kid fails algebra, that's a tell that the kid should be channeled down the arithmetic path and not the calculus path.
We don't have a lack of native-born American engineers because "math is too hard," we have a lack of native-born American engineers because we've had a generation or two of squishy curricula that put more emphasis on feeling good about one's self than it did on learning stuff. And, quite frankly, at least in the computing world, we have a lack of native-born American software engineers because we imported a sh*t-ton of our western Asian friends because they were cheaper.
My son is 18, he works with me as an apprentice, he is learning mechanical skills and performing repetitious habits,he is quite good at staying with a boring job if its simple. used to be society gave the worst jobs to those with Aspergers, now that its been viewed now you see it as an asset to have for jobs that require out of the box thinking.
A person with Aspergers actually is years ahead of others, but because of that are often criticized or taught to “act dumb” so as to not be disruptive to the others in class.
Oh I was smart, and smart enough to piss off the teachers that I also did not want to be a special ed study case. I wanted a simpler life, blue collar work, I can hold my own with some very high engineering experts, but I prefer to live and work a more basic lifestyle.
Thats the danger for anyone with Aspergers, society will try to stereotype you into what they want, they don’t want you with freedom, because should the day come for insurrection you would be their worst enemy.
In the software world, it's a mixed bag. You can offshore code to India and get back nice, usable code, or you can offshore code to India, or even China these days, and get back complete dogsh*t that you have to re-write. The former is cost-effective, the latter, of couse, is awful.
Basically, the best offshoring code shops are those set up by people who've spent some time in the US and understand the way we communicate and do things. Those guys then go home to their native countries, open up a code factory, and make out like bandits.
Schools are run like prisons. If tyranny comes homeschoolers will also be their worst enemy. That is why the government toadies ( misnamed “educators”) hate homeschooling.
We have raised generations of children without proper math skills, and they sign up for exotic mortgages that they will not be able to afford, get into serious credit card debt, and cannot tell you what is a better deal: a six pack of beer for 4.79, (0.66 per oz), or a 24 pack for 19.87, (0.83 per can). Like my husband says, it's a tax on stupid people.
BTW, I have found that about 10 percent of those shelf stickers have the wrong price per each, making them unusable for price comparison.
Anyone who has compared two cans of tomato sauce to see which is cheaper per ounce has done algebra. There’s a lot of folks out there who do algebra every day without knowing it.
Anyone not capable of basic algebra probably has no business in college. We have a huge problem today with sending everyone to college regardless of their abilities. So we get tons of useless degrees and skyrocketing college classes, which only discourages the students who should be attending and learning their professions.
A great point . . . in fact, I'd say basic economics or a course on money/money management should be a foundational course at the elementary school level.
I did some (property tax) contract work for Citigroup several years back. They brought in about 100 "Southeast Asians" through an agency for a tech project that worked on the same floor.
Simply put, it was a bad fit culturally. I don't know about the women, but many of the men used the restroom sinks for bathing...I ultimately availed myself of the restrooms on different floors.
They're lovely people, but they can't drive to save their lives. They're hard workers, and their children increase the competition in our school district, which is fine by me. My 10 YO has set his sights on matriculating at UT-Austin...he'll have to finish in the top 8% of his class to qualify for admission. By the time he finishes HS, it may be top 5%.
I was recently in a situaton where a company created a mixed team of women from an equatorial African country and a S.E. asian country (over my strong objections). The Asians spoke little English but were very skilled and were hard workers. The Africans spoke excellent English but were less skilled and-worse-required anyone giving them tasks to couch the instructions in delicate, even felicitous language, and did not accept correction no matter how it was offered. When we put some of the Asians into leadership positions, a situation was created that nearly devolved into physical violence. The Africans ignored any instruction that they felt was given "disrespectfully," and the Asian team leaders became more and more frustrated. We had a few near-fights and daily drama that greatly interfered with a delivery. Upper managment eventually intervened and split everybody up again. It was an epic fail.
I have a radioactive compound that is 1 mCi/mL and 45 mCi/mMole of a compound that is 450 g/mole and need to make a dose that will be delivered at 10 mg/kg and 50 uCi/dose.
Try doing that without algebra.
American education is bad enough - and we import enough Chinese and Indian people to do technical work as it is - do we REALLY want to be that stupid as to not even be able to do algebra.
I can hardly respect the intelligence of someone unable to do calculus. Telling me that you cannot do algebra is like saying “I'm stupid and proud of it”.
+1 and LOL!
There are 10 kinds of people in this world; those who understand binary, and those who don’t
You are obviously mistaken. In my corporation, I am told over and over and over and over and over and over again that diversity is our strength. Just look at that tower of Babel. Oh, wait.
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