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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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.
Diversity cost us a contract bonus that we were almost guaranteed to get.
Teaching Math In 1950
A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price. What is his profit?
Teaching Math In 1960
A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is 4/5 of the price, or $80. What is his profit?
Teaching Math In 1980
A logger sells a truckload of lumber for $100. His cost of production is $80 and his profit is $20. Your assignment: Underline the number 20.
Teaching Math In 1990
By cutting down beautiful forest trees, the logger makes $20. What do you think of this way of making a living? Topic for class participation after answering the question: How did the birds and squirrels feel as the logger cut down the trees?
Teaching Math In 2012
El hachero vende un camion carga por $100. La cuesta de production es..........
Who needs skills in logical thinking and problem solving? Isn’t it much better to learn how get in touch with your feelings and base all your actions on those? /s (duh!)
The latest round of promotions were accompanied by articles essentially celebrating the percentage of promotions received by folks other than evil white males. Silly me, I thought we should celebrate the accomplishments and qualifications of those promoted; not the amount of melanin in their skin and where their reproductive organs are.
Are you saying you're surrounded by Nimrods? lol
Retired engineer here. In grade school when the arithmetic assignments for homework were announced, and it was a page of number crunching examples was assigned, we all groaned - me not the least. But if it was a page of word problems, the rest of the class reallywailed over it - while I was delighted. Interesting puzzles, not usually hard - and only a handful of them.Geometry, on the other hand, piece of cake.
I found algebra tedious in high school, and - like you - thoroughly enjoyed Plane G. Again, interesting puzzles. My understanding that I was "cut out for" math dates to geometry class, not before.Im convinced that that was because your typical grade school teacher takes up the profession because she is a people person who likes dealing with kids. And does not necessarily have the slightest interest in, or much facility with, mathematics. She is likely to think like the three football jocks who were talking about how they couldnt handle college math:
If your highest aspiration and appreciation of math doesnt go beyond long division, you will not really help, will not even recognize, the kid whose abilities in math will enable him/her to become a good math teacher or an engineer.
- Jock #1: I couldnt handle Calculus at all. Thats when I quit.
- Jock #2: "Trigonometry got me. That stuff was really hard."
- Jock #3: Any of you guys ever hear of long division?
But hey - even multiplication was hard for the ancient Romans. And it would be for you, too, if you were trying to multiply Roman Numerals!
An interesting sidelight - I placed third in my HS class, and the Valedictorian and saludadictorian both went to Yale and became professors - but both struggled mightily with math in their Freshman year. They complained bitterly to our HS administration over their inadequate math background. I OTOH went to Engineering school - Drexel Institute of Technology - and at that time they didnt start out directly in Calculus, but started with a surprisingly - to me, and I wasnt alone - challenging Algebra course. Followed by a challenging Trig course and, only in the third trimester of the Freshman year, a Calculus course. My progression thru the Math curriculum was much smoother - tho hardly a cakewalk - than those of my two HS classmates, one of whom switched majors because of his math woes.
Nope, not in the software industry. Maybe a little when I was working on an accounting package, but even then that was mostly just basic math until we were working on the payroll package. Oddly enough the people most likely to use algebra regularly on the job are folks least likely to have done well in it in school: construction. Knowing how much material to buy/ bring is all algebra.
High School Math Proficiency Exam
1. Johnny has an AK-47 with an
2. Jose has 2 ounces of cocaine and he sells an
3. Rufus is pimping for three girls. If the price is $65 for each trick, how many tricks will each girl have to turn so Rufus can pay for his $800-per-day crack habit?
4. Jarone want to cut his 1/2 pound of heroin to make 20% more profit. How many ounces of cut will he need?
5. Willie gets $200 for stealing a BMW, $50 for a Chevy, and $100 for a 4X4. If he has stolen
6. Raoul is in prison for
7. If the average spray can covers
8. Hector knocked up 6 girls in his gang. There are
9. Thelma can cook dinner for her
10. Salvador was arrested for dealing crack and his bail was set at $25,000. If he pays a bail bondsman 12% and returns to Mexico, how much money will he lose by jumping bail?
Your post absolutely cracked me up!
What did I do today?
I spent all day welding modified suspension brackets to a pair of military axles for a 12” suspension lift for a swamp/hunting buggy, this includes torching the raw steel from some surplus steel I-beam girders, I have to torch all the bolt holes by hand with a cutting torch for the oversized fasteners because there isn’t any exact formula here, its fabrication by eye and a tape measure.
By the time I install 55” tractor tires the bottom of the Ford F-350 crew cab will be almost 6 feet off the ground.
I am designing my own version of torque rods salvaged from an old concrete mixer rear axle, almost all the steel is salvaged from old truck frames, good strong tempered steel.
I don’t need algebra, this is my job, and its only part of my skills. Too much emphasis on kids for narrow field expertise, and when those jobs are scarce they starve or become dependent on the Feds.
And with the direction America is going some more urgent skills are about to come into play, mark my words.
I've got an early 60's edition of The American Practical Navigator. It amazes me that one young man, Nathanial Bowditch, wrote this book in the late 18th Century and helped to make America a Sea Power.
I read through parts of it from time to time and every once in a great while will have a mathematical revelation. The other 99% of the time I put it down utterly frustrated at my inability to comprehend it.
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