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Is Algebra Necessary?
New York Times ^ | July 28, 2012 | ANDREW HACKER

Posted on 07/29/2012 6:05:38 AM PDT by reaganaut1

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. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I’ve found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn’t.

My question extends beyond algebra and applies more broadly to the usual mathematics sequence, from geometry through calculus. State regents and legislators — and much of the public — take it as self-evident that every young person should be made to master polynomial functions and parametric equations.

There are many defenses of algebra and the virtue of learning it. Most of them sound reasonable on first hearing; many of them I once accepted. But the more I examine them, the clearer it seems that they are largely or wholly wrong — unsupported by research or evidence, or based on wishful logic. (I’m not talking about quantitative skills, critical for informed citizenship and personal finance, but a very different ballgame.)

This debate matters. 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. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources.

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.

(Excerpt) Read more at nytimes.com ...


TOPICS: Culture/Society
KEYWORDS: algebra; college; education; highrteducation; math; mathematics
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To: xp38

Actually, “Find X, here it is” is correct.

If it was “Find the value of X...

I have an MS in engineering, so I am not some nitpicking social “scientist.” I just understand the difference between what is stated and what is desired.


101 posted on 07/29/2012 7:03:20 AM PDT by CPOSharky (zero slogan: Expect less, pay more. (apologies to Target))
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To: BobL; yldstrk
yldstrk,

You have my admiration for recognizing that your children were missing a major part of their basic education and taking steps to correct it. ( Very expensive and a great sacrifice on your part.)

Like BobL, I didn't trust the teachers in the government schools and from interviewing principals and teachers in private schools I concluded they were dittzes, too! From the time they were babies I worked on phonics and letter recognition, and counting. They were **years** ahead of their contemporaries. Two finished B.S. degrees in mathematics at the age of 18.

Parents, like you, yldstrk and BobL, are to be commended for recognizing the **you** are the ones who must stand before God and be judged for how well you prepared your children for life.

By the way....I think every government teacher should be immediately given the GED. If they fail, they should be fired. Most would fail the math section. And....I think every government teacher should be required to take and pass with a “B” Calculus I ( the **same** courses as the engineers, science, and math majors) . No, most don't need calculus for what they do, but it would assure that: 1_) they had a high enough IQ to deserve the job, and 1) that they wouldn't be passing on their math phobia to their students.

102 posted on 07/29/2012 7:03:44 AM PDT by wintertime (:-))
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To: yldstrk

“So on top of exorbitant private school tuition, we are paying taxes and for private tutors just to get middle school math basics.”

It’s really your complaint about paying taxes (for the schools). You’re more than welcome to complain about it - but I don’t. I NEVER expected anything of value in return - you imply that you did (hence your complaint), rather than just accepting the tax as the cost of living in this country and realizing it’s just another transfer payment scheme, which has no benefit to you, just like most of the income tax.

I knew that I would never see a dime of benefit from “school taxes” from the moment I moved out of my last apartment.


103 posted on 07/29/2012 7:03:57 AM PDT by BobL ( It's easy to be a saint when you have nothing on the line)
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To: Sacajaweau

Glad you like math’s “real answers” as you diss “pretty” writing. There is, however, a real answer as to when to use effected and affected.

And you got it wrong.

Writing also has real answers.


104 posted on 07/29/2012 7:04:48 AM PDT by Houghton M.
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To: FatherofFive

We send far to many ‘precious resources’ to college when they can’t do basic math. Where they waste 4 years.

In my opinion many teachers don’t know how to teach the subject. In high school I just made a passing grade in algebra. However, in algebra I in college, I had a teacher with a masters degree in the subject. During each class she went through the one problem she assigned for homework, She took the next entire class period to explain that one problem going back to the very basic principles of algebra. By the end of the semester, I think everybody in the class mastered the subject. I received an A.

Without that course I never would have passed pharmacology in dental school


105 posted on 07/29/2012 7:04:48 AM PDT by chainsaw ("Two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.")
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To: reaganaut1

Most high school graduates today cannot make change at McDonalds when the computer is down.


106 posted on 07/29/2012 7:04:58 AM PDT by Venturer
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To: reaganaut1

What is the gross margin return on investment for this? “No man is an island.” Two important lessons I learned outside of school.


107 posted on 07/29/2012 7:08:49 AM PDT by blueunicorn6 ("A crack shot and a good dancer")
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To: reaganaut1

108 posted on 07/29/2012 7:09:37 AM PDT by bmwcyle (Corollary - Electing the same person over and over and expecting a different outcome is insanity)
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To: CPOSharky

Don’t confuse them with “real answers” regarding grammar and writing.

We all know that only engineering and mathematics and physics deal with the real world.

Writing meaningful sentences is just a bunch of artsy fartsy prettiness. The humanities are just a bunch of girly airy fairy nonsense

We know that because Freepers proclaim it again and again and again.

Science good. Humanities useless.

Find the value of X? Find X? Who cares about such petty pretty differences. For an engineer, you sound like one of those airy fair humanities drones. /s


109 posted on 07/29/2012 7:09:37 AM PDT by Houghton M.
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To: Baynative

I know I shouldn’t laugh but... that WAS very funny.

We were required our first two years of high school to take college prep courses. By the time one reached his/her Junior year they pretty well knew if they planned to further their education or pursue some other field. So if you decided to attend college...you had two years of prep behind you which was excellent. If you didn’t go to college... you STILL had two years of prep behind you which didn’t hurt at all. I think it is a good thing.


110 posted on 07/29/2012 7:10:24 AM PDT by cubreporter
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To: Baynative

I know I shouldn’t laugh but... that WAS very funny.

We were required our first two years of high school to take college prep courses. By the time one reached his/her Junior year they pretty well knew if they planned to further their education or pursue some other field. So if you decided to attend college...you had two years of prep behind you which was excellent. If you didn’t go to college... you STILL had two years of prep behind you which didn’t hurt at all. I think it is a good thing.


111 posted on 07/29/2012 7:10:25 AM PDT by cubreporter
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To: Baynative

I know I shouldn’t laugh but... that WAS very funny.

We were required our first two years of high school to take college prep courses. By the time one reached his/her Junior year they pretty well knew if they planned to further their education or pursue some other field. So if you decided to attend college...you had two years of prep behind you which was excellent. If you didn’t go to college... you STILL had two years of prep behind you which didn’t hurt at all. I think it is a good thing.


112 posted on 07/29/2012 7:10:25 AM PDT by cubreporter
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To: BobL

+6 is pretty high, that would put the seventh grader in calculus. What did you do for eighth grade? We have a Saxon calculus book for the 9th grader but I don’t see much point in going beyond that - might as well branch out into physics, computational theory, and other modern disciplines.


113 posted on 07/29/2012 7:12:19 AM PDT by Technocrat (Romney-Scooby 2012)
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To: Alberta's Child

I graduated from high school in 1959. The only reason I didn’t flunk algebra and geometry was because my aunt was a big shot in the order of nuns that taught us. I loved Latin, history and lit. I went to college on my GI bill and graduated magna cum laude. I excelled in French and geology. In my 70 years I can’t think of a single incident in my life where I’ve needed algebra. I use arithmetic every day.


114 posted on 07/29/2012 7:12:33 AM PDT by Ax ( Y)
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To: meatloaf

it helped me find my way back to my hotel from a bar in Toledo, Spain!


115 posted on 07/29/2012 7:12:40 AM PDT by Reily
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To: There You Go Again

That sounds about right!

They outlawed the memorization of multiplication facts some years ago, because some students found it impossible to memorize. Now they wonder why high school students cannot find a common denominator nor solve a rational equation. Teachers’ unions did this to our young people, since the unions OK the textbooks.


116 posted on 07/29/2012 7:12:49 AM PDT by abclily
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To: reaganaut1
This from the paper that gave us this timeless Obama classic: "Since I've been president, federal spending has risen at the lowest pace in nearly 60 years.”

Some pretty fancy algebra going on right there.

117 posted on 07/29/2012 7:15:46 AM PDT by Vide
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To: carriage_hill

Amen. If it isn’t EASY...they don’t want it. Tough it out and maybe you’ll learn something constructive and... maybe the parents should stop defending the kids rights all the time. I’d rather be tough on my kids and when they are grown adults we can look back and say yeah, we were tough on them but... look at them now. Parenting isn’t for sissies and if the parents don’t act responsible then the teachers can’t do their job and the kids will just be pushed through till graduation. Then guess what??? Good luck to them.


118 posted on 07/29/2012 7:15:46 AM PDT by cubreporter
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To: yldstrk

Let me just add that the people that I’ve dealt with on this are PERFECTLY NORMAL. Their educations got them to where they are, and most went to public schools - so why should they expect problems with public schools today?

I was different. I saw my sister get wrecked by the same “top-tier” public school that I went to (she got to me a test subject of their “new-math”), so I had some suspicions. So then I read Thomas Sowell’s books, even before my kids existed. Those two things are what convinced me that I could NEVER drop my kids in public schools. But how many would-be parents ever do that?

So, yes, I am abnormal. But what upset me was the near-universal attitude of others that there was nothing wrong with the public school system - even though their kids were meandering around well into their 20s (in some cases), trying to find a career. What I said had no impact...when it comes to me or a smiling teacher who says all is fine, the teacher wins, every time.

In your case, I have no clue if anyone told you how bad it is...which is why I don’t hold it against people I don’t know. But I do get a bit annoyed at people that complain after being warned of the what’s in store for their kids, if they continue down the “normal” path.


119 posted on 07/29/2012 7:15:55 AM PDT by BobL ( It's easy to be a saint when you have nothing on the line)
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To: Lady Lucky

LOL. The sailor uniform was the first giveaway. Trust me. A sailor always knows where the bars are located. Even though I didn’t speak Italian, sinistra was the key word.


120 posted on 07/29/2012 7:18:41 AM PDT by meatloaf (Support Senate S 1863 & House Bill 1380 to eliminate oil slavery.)
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To: rbg81
I took a semester of accounting and found it endlessly repetitive and boring. I kept telling myself this is why God made computers!
121 posted on 07/29/2012 7:19:16 AM PDT by Reily
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To: Izzy Dunne

How about a history test from 10,000 BC? :-)


122 posted on 07/29/2012 7:23:05 AM PDT by Larry Lucido
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To: bill1952

Don’t need math at all by your reasoning.
Just use a calculator.

someone had to know how to make the calculator function properly. Besides, how do you know the calculator is correct if you don’t know basic math and algebra.


123 posted on 07/29/2012 7:23:28 AM PDT by chainsaw ("Two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.")
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To: reaganaut1

from geometry through calculus.

Do they even teach geometry in high school any more? I learned more about rational thinking than I did about math from plane geometry and doing the damned proofs


124 posted on 07/29/2012 7:23:39 AM PDT by Figment
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To: Technocrat

“+6 is pretty high, that would put the seventh grader in calculus. What did you do for eighth grade? We have a Saxon calculus book for the 9th grader but I don’t see much point in going beyond that - might as well branch out into physics, computational theory, and other modern disciplines.”

Yea, we used Saxon too (the old Saxon, that is). Worked great - and it was fast, because we didn’t take off much time (i.e., no summer break, some work on weekends - that was the key to getting way ahead).

I took them through pre-Calc (i.e., “Advanced Mathematics”), and then enrolled them in our community college starting with Calculus (we wanted them to have Calculus documented on a transcript). They didn’t have a minimum age, but they did require 500 SAT on Math and Verbal (using the old test). Math was a blow-out, as one would expect from the Saxon prep - Verbal was closer, but they squeaked through. With that, they were allowed to enroll. We ramped up, starting with one class the first semester, then two the second (while still in Christian school), then full-time after that. I suspect the SAT requirement is to show that the kid doesn’t need remedial - which, at that age, would mean that the kid had no business being in college courses.


125 posted on 07/29/2012 7:24:06 AM PDT by BobL ( It's easy to be a saint when you have nothing on the line)
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To: reaganaut1

I took Algebra I through IV and I can’t think of an instance that I used it since then. Of course, I am not a scientist or a math teacher. Do Engineers use it?


126 posted on 07/29/2012 7:25:23 AM PDT by Old Retired Army Guy
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To: Tijeras_Slim

LOL!


127 posted on 07/29/2012 7:25:40 AM PDT by samtheman (Obama. Mugabe. Chavez. (Obamugavez))
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To: BobL

Look Bob, if you read all of the thread, you would see that I threw in the towel and took my youngest to a very pricy private school so she wouldn’t have to deal with the teachers on dope and the administrators who don’t like children and the police in the hall. It was a journey, when we started out, the schools were fine, the deterioration came in about 5th grade.

But now, of course we are dealing with the wealthy Nancy Pelosi types.......


128 posted on 07/29/2012 7:26:16 AM PDT by yldstrk ( That is corrMy heroes have always been cowboys)
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To: reaganaut1
It is not the subject algebra per se.

If the attitude is ‘you deserve to win a medal of something, for just showing up’, then everything else is ‘hard’.

We have to change that, no more cuddling from school and parents. The real hard life lessons these kids eventually will have to learn anyway.

129 posted on 07/29/2012 7:26:50 AM PDT by Sir Napsalot (Pravda + Useful Idiots = CCCP; JournOList + Useful Idiots = DopeyChangey!)
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To: reaganaut1

They “can’t” do algebra because they are diddling with their idiotic iPhones and sexting one another their Weiner’s instead of, you know, cracking a book and learning to do something difficult.

Algebra and geometry is still a good way to identify people with self discipline, the ability to concentrate and actually learn. In Germany as late as the 1970’s only about 6% of all students went on the academic high school, the balance went to trade schools. I’m all for not requiring adolescents to learn algebra, just don’t call the process high school, call it what it is, vocational training.


130 posted on 07/29/2012 7:26:50 AM PDT by Lonesome in Massachussets (The Democratic Party strongly supports full civil rights for necro-Americans!)
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To: reaganaut1

Algebra is difficult without knowing basic math facts .

It’s a lot easier to factor x^2 + 5x + 6 when you can rapidly figure out what numbers will multiply to 6 yet add up to 5

(x + 2)(x + 3)

IMHO, they need to drop the calculators and bring back rote & drill for the basics.

That being said, algebra is like excercise for your mind muscle. You may not ever use it per se, but it helps you in other cognitive tasks.


131 posted on 07/29/2012 7:27:21 AM PDT by P.O.E. (Pray for America)
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To: CPOSharky

Here was my first problem with the article.
The word “social” placed in front of the word “scientist” negates scientist! You know that the author is anything but a scientist!


132 posted on 07/29/2012 7:29:24 AM PDT by Reily
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To: BobL

My HS auto mech was pretty good and you could start only in 10th grade. I maxed all three years. I use some of it nowadays still.

One big perk I had was that my mom worked at the HS and I could get a pass to be the shop gofer and lunch getter.


133 posted on 07/29/2012 7:30:02 AM PDT by wally_bert (It's sheer elegance in its simplicity! - The Middleman)
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To: yldstrk

“you would see that I threw in the towel and took my youngest to a very pricy private school so she wouldn’t have to deal with the teachers on dope and the administrators who don’t like children and the police in the hall. It was a journey, when we started out, the schools were fine, the deterioration came in about 5th grade.”

Yes, I did see that, and I agree with Wintertime that you took control and DEFINITELY deserved to be congratulated for that. It just kills me how many parents are like you in that they have to discover that nightmare for themselves...rather than, somehow, know it going in. I’m sure you’d agree that your life (and junior’s) would have been much smoother if you knew what those schools were about early on.

But again, you acted in time, and still saved them from a (possible) nightmare life - so GREAT WORK!!


134 posted on 07/29/2012 7:30:17 AM PDT by BobL ( It's easy to be a saint when you have nothing on the line)
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To: SampleMan

I had Algebra I, II, Geometry, Physics, and something some called “Senior Math”, “Pre-Calculus”, and some others called it “Trigonometry”. I had to have “College Algebra” when I was in college and I pretty much slept through that and got an A. It was just a review of what I had already had in high school.


135 posted on 07/29/2012 7:30:25 AM PDT by MachIV
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To: yldstrk
It doesn't matter how good a teacher is at math...Algebra, whatever...it does matter how well they can explain and teach it.

I had a teacher who was a "genius" who couldn't comprehend that we didn't comprehend what she was saying. NOT teaching.

We cheated (she didn't comprehend cheating, either) on the final and I failed. I had to take it again on my own and "passed." I never did believe that!

We also had a science teacher whose C & D students tutored when they got to college.

Grades are relative, I guess.

BTW, the Algebra teacher was a dear, sweet soul who really tried. The Science teacher was a tyrant but any time school is mentioned in my hometown, the conversation always turns to him and everybody who ever took a class under him has a tale to tell. My dentist said that those HS science classes got him through dental school.

I took a 9th grade General Science test 5 times and never did pass it. He finally quit giving it. We had the answers. One Q was, "Explain how a mercury light works; a doorbell; the difference between dry & wet cell batteries."

One of his good students went on to become the foremost authority on lightening in the country, a physics prof at Rice, and a consultant to NASA...among other important things.

All this happened 50 years ago when public schools were good. We could diagram sentences by 6th grade. I think they have done away with that, also.

136 posted on 07/29/2012 7:31:32 AM PDT by lonestar (It takes a village of idiots to elect a village idiot.)
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To: carriage_hill

“Geeez, we had algebra I-II-III starting in 6th grade 50s Jr HS (6-7-8); then geometry, trig and calc in 60s HS (9-10-11-12)”

I had all of that too, plus some more in college. I have never used it since. My work does not require it. Was it necessary? Helpful? Make me a “more rounded” person? I think not, and would tend to agree with the author. Teach basic math well, and let higher math be an option for the future engineers, scientists, etc.


137 posted on 07/29/2012 7:31:37 AM PDT by Rennes Templar
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To: RightOnline

When I learned Algebra, it was 90% regurgitation of formulas and proofs you were expected to memorize. If you had a bad memory, you were screwed. I’m not sure how it is taught now, but in my time, both Algebra I and II were closed book tests and quizes so you had no access to any formulas or proofs. The teacher had the same difficulty. She would copy proofs from her notes onto the board, but could never solve anything without looking it up in her notes or in the book.


138 posted on 07/29/2012 7:31:54 AM PDT by Kirkwood (Zombie Hunter)
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To: P.O.E.

Here I was trying to sound all erudite and stuff, when I go and misspell exercise. /drat


139 posted on 07/29/2012 7:32:04 AM PDT by P.O.E. (Pray for America)
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To: reaganaut1

I’m speechless that anyone would advocate for the elimination of algebra. How does someone get through life without being able to solve for an unknown? Are there really people whose objective is to ensure a nation of illiterates?


140 posted on 07/29/2012 7:32:08 AM PDT by SquarePants
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To: umgud

All the fast-food registers do the math for them.

Until the power is lost for two days because of a storm.

this has happened to me, several times,and the high school grad at the cash register had no idea how much change to give me. I usually have to re-educate them on how to count to 100.


141 posted on 07/29/2012 7:32:47 AM PDT by chainsaw ("Two ways to conquer and enslave a nation. One is by the sword. The other is by debt.")
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To: reaganaut1; Izzy Dunne; FatherofFive; There You Go Again; SampleMan; Ramcat; RightGeek; ...
Maybe the author should get in touch with Lockhart.....
March 2008

Lockhart's Lament

This month's column is devoted to an article called A Mathematician's Lament, written by Paul Lockhart in 2002. Paul is a mathematics teacher at Saint Ann's School in Brooklyn, New York. His article has been circulating through parts of the mathematics and math ed communities ever since, but he never published it. I came across it by accident a few months ago, and decided at once I wanted to give it wider exposure. I contacted Paul, and he agreed to have me publish his "lament" on MAA Online. It is, quite frankly, one of the best critiques of current K-12 mathematics education I have ever seen. Written by a first-class research mathematician who elected to devote his teaching career to K-!2 education.

Paul became interested in mathematics when he was about 14 (outside of the school math class, he points out) and read voraciously, becoming especially interested in analytic number theory. He dropped out of college after one semester to devote himself to math, supporting himself by working as a computer programmer and as an elementary school teacher. Eventually he started working with Ernst Strauss at UCLA, and the two published a few papers together. Strauss introduced him to Paul Erdos, and they somehow arranged it so that he became a graduate student there. He ended up getting a Ph.D. from Columbia in 1990, and went on to be a fellow at MSRI and an assistant professor at Brown. He also taught at UC Santa Cruz. His main research interests were, and are, automorphic forms and Diophantine geometry.

After several years teaching university mathematics, Paul eventually tired of it and decided he wanted to get back to teaching children. He secured a position at Saint Ann's School, where he says "I have happily been subversively teaching mathematics (the real thing) since 2000."

He teaches all grade levels at Saint Ann's (K-12), and says he is especially interested in bringing a mathematician's point of view to very young children. "I want them to understand that there is a playground in their minds and that that is where mathematics happens. So far I have met with tremendous enthusiasm among the parents and kids, less so among the mid-level administrators," he wrote in an email to me. Now where have I heard that kind of thing before? But enough of my words. Read Paul's dynamite essay. It's a 25-page PDF file.

Lockhart's Lament


Devlin's Angle is updated at the beginning of each month.
142 posted on 07/29/2012 7:33:00 AM PDT by sam_paine (X .................................)
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To: lonestar

I LOVED diagramming sentences!


143 posted on 07/29/2012 7:33:34 AM PDT by yldstrk ( That is corrMy heroes have always been cowboys)
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To: the_daug
Good thing I don't have bugs.


144 posted on 07/29/2012 7:34:25 AM PDT by bgill
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To: BobL

well I live in a state with high taxes for property


145 posted on 07/29/2012 7:36:07 AM PDT by yldstrk ( That is corrMy heroes have always been cowboys)
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To: Lady Lucky
One of the great intellectual “breakthroughs” in human thinking was to separate “numbers” from “things”. The point being that numbers are more then just convenient scratches on writing media for counting. They have “meaning” and properties over and above keeping track of say “sheep”.
146 posted on 07/29/2012 7:37:10 AM PDT by Reily
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To: wally_bert

“My HS auto mech was pretty good and you could start only in 10th grade. I maxed all three years. I use some of it nowadays still.”

Me too, I would have done it right through college, if they offered the classes. As it was, I took a certification test for being a mechanic when in college, and passed that. Just for fun.


147 posted on 07/29/2012 7:39:02 AM PDT by BobL ( It's easy to be a saint when you have nothing on the line)
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To: bgill

Some people solve for x. I solve for y.


148 posted on 07/29/2012 7:39:32 AM PDT by reg45 (Barack 0bama: Implementing class warfare by having no class!)
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To: wintertime

I once dated a high school math teacher (She had a Math Ed degree!) who never had Calculus. I remember thinking to myself how can she have a “Math degree” and not have had Calculus! That was before I found out that there are shall we say “degrees of of degrees”!


149 posted on 07/29/2012 7:41:44 AM PDT by Reily
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To: reaganaut1

when I was in college decades ago tutoring new students in remedial algebra, I never found a kid who couldn’t eventually grasp the concepts.

I think half the problem is that teachers act like algebra is so abstract it’s like magic. In truth, you will be much better off in most of your endeavors if you learn how to view the world in different ways, one of which is the way that algebra works.

I think in my school district you can get a general high school degree without advanced algebra, you need the math for the advanced degree.

Someone else mentioned figuring out word problems. I am in a math-related field, and have many credits of higher math classes under my belt. I was never that good at the word problems. My brain tends to be too literal. But figuring out how to work through them was a skill I can apply to many different things I do, so I think it was useful.

For any of you freepers who know what I mean when I say “beamspace”, let me say that I could never fully grasp THAT concept either, which didn’t stop me from getting halfway through a masters of signal processing (all I wanted — I just needed to speak the language, I never wanted to do the work).


150 posted on 07/29/2012 7:41:44 AM PDT by CharlesWayneCT
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