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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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As I wrote in a previous FR thread Requiring Algebra II in high school gains momentum nationwide a large fraction of the population does not have the capacity for abstract thinking to do Algebra II, and I don't want to stamp them all as "high school drop-outs", at least not until a meaningful junior high school diploma is created, certifying that someone can read and do arithmetic through fractions. I don't agree with Hacker that we should give bachelor's degrees to people who cannot do algebra, and most of the NYT commenters agree with me.
1 posted on 07/29/2012 6:05:41 AM PDT by reaganaut1
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To: reaganaut1

Take a look at a 1912 high school math test.


2 posted on 07/29/2012 6:09:36 AM PDT by Izzy Dunne (Hello, I'm a TAGLINE virus. Please help me spread by copying me into YOUR tag line.)
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To: reaganaut1
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.

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

We went to the moon not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

3 posted on 07/29/2012 6:10:30 AM PDT by FatherofFive (Islam is evil and must be eradicated)
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To: reaganaut1

Git ride of spelleng two. Thate wass harde subjek four me.


4 posted on 07/29/2012 6:10:55 AM PDT by There You Go Again
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To: reaganaut1
Even in the mid 80’s algebra wasn't a requirement for graduation for most public schools. Having said that, algebra isn't that hard, and I do believe the real purpose of school is to learn, even if the grade received is a C or D.

Using algebra is fairly handy in day to day calculations for material, etc. I am saddened when I see grown people guessing or concluding that a determination is impossible, when all that is required is a simple algebra equation.

5 posted on 07/29/2012 6:13:22 AM PDT by SampleMan (Feral Humans are the refuse of socialism.)
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To: reaganaut1
I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers.

Counting on your digits doesn't count as higher math.

6 posted on 07/29/2012 6:13:28 AM PDT by Ramcat (Thank You American Veterans)
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To: reaganaut1

The link for the article is http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/29/opinion/sunday/is-algebra-necessary.html?pagewanted=all


7 posted on 07/29/2012 6:13:59 AM PDT by RightGeek (FUBO and the donkey you rode in on)
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To: reaganaut1


People do not understand that learniing to perform algebra helps you understand physics and generally solve real life problems. This reminds me of the people who see no use at all for learning a language like Latin. I let such people know that learning some Latin helped me understand English and language as a whole.
8 posted on 07/29/2012 6:14:20 AM PDT by Dr. Sivana ("I love to hear you talk talk talk, but I hate what I hear you say."-Del Shannon)
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To: reaganaut1

I will tell you EXACTLY why they are “struggling”. The math teachers are les incompetents, is why. My son has had teachers making 50G plus or more at the high school level in our “excellent” school district who were dumber than a box of hammers about math or how to teach it. My son is a math natural who was talking about negative numbers at the age of four, so he told me he just taught himself out of the book. When he went to college, he tested into an avanced calculus class freshman year. However, that class was taught by a Chinese “TA” no one could make heads or tails out of what he was saying. So again, my son had to teach the subject to himself.

My daughter, a student at the best private school in the city and had a “genius” woman for a math teacher. The majority of we parents were also paying for tutors for our individual students who knew how to get an idea from teacher to student cogently, unlike the “genius” who was responsible for teaching the class. So on top of exorbitant private school tuition, we are paying taxes and for private tutors just to get middle school math basics. Oh and you dare not say anything about any of the teachers due to possible repercussions.


9 posted on 07/29/2012 6:15:13 AM PDT by yldstrk ( My heroes have always been cowboys)
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To: reaganaut1

10 posted on 07/29/2012 6:15:52 AM PDT by Tijeras_Slim
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To: reaganaut1

I’m one of those who just could not grasp Algebra. I the world ever comes to a crisis and I need to know what time a train that left Cleveland at midnight going 60 mph pass a plane from Baltimore, I’m screwed.


11 posted on 07/29/2012 6:15:57 AM PDT by Baynative (A man's admiration for absolute government is proportionate to the contempt he feels for others)
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To: reaganaut1
two million college freshmen struggling with algebra

Two million college freshman who are paying (borrowing) 30K/year to learn what a "college student" should have known after 11th grade. The universities should not allow any student into college (borrowing big $) if they cannot pass basic competency tests. These basic competencies can be learned in an environment that does not cost $30K, and if they cannot learn these things they do not belong in college.

12 posted on 07/29/2012 6:16:12 AM PDT by BRL
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To: reaganaut1
I say this as a writer and social scientist

I stopped reading at this point. The author has no basis for constructing this article.

I have a BA in English and a graduate certificate in professional writing, but I went up to Calc III in college. Algebra is not impossible. We need to come up with more creative, practical ways to teach it.

13 posted on 07/29/2012 6:16:12 AM PDT by rarestia (It's time to water the Tree of Liberty.)
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To: Ramcat
I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers.

The overlords don't want anybody understanding, and therefore be able to question, their computer models.

If we are going to drop the algebra requirement, what need is there to warehouse children until they are 18? They may as well go onto an apprenticeship, grunt work or a trade school.
14 posted on 07/29/2012 6:16:57 AM PDT by Dr. Sivana ("I love to hear you talk talk talk, but I hate what I hear you say."-Del Shannon)
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To: reaganaut1

Fitting article from the NYT.

After all, we know math is not a friend of liberals.


15 posted on 07/29/2012 6:16:57 AM PDT by Da Coyote
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To: Dr. Sivana

Elementary algebraic topology would be a good substitute.


16 posted on 07/29/2012 6:17:06 AM PDT by Blagden Alley
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To: reaganaut1

Michigan state rep (and now republican national committeeman) Dave Agema wants to require constitutional literacy from schools.

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-bloggers/2833073/posts


17 posted on 07/29/2012 6:17:26 AM PDT by cripplecreek (What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?)
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To: reaganaut1

Oh AND when she started at the private school, we had to do summer at Sylvan learning center which determined that at our “excellent” public elementary school, she had not been taught decimals or fractions. So much for the idiot “education” degree these “teachers” are required to obtain by the “Education Department” and the NEA which gives them the 50G plus salaries just or showing up


18 posted on 07/29/2012 6:17:36 AM PDT by yldstrk ( My heroes have always been cowboys)
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To: reaganaut1
Gee, a "social Scientist" wants to ditch algebra.

So the free traders want to outsource all of our manufacturing jobs, jobs tailor made for about 50% of the population, so they can retrain to do what?

19 posted on 07/29/2012 6:17:51 AM PDT by central_va ( I won't be reconstructed and I do not give a damn.)
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To: SampleMan

It sure as heck was at my high school. Guess what? They also had calculus and advanced algebra and trigonometry and physics. so there.


20 posted on 07/29/2012 6:19:02 AM PDT by yldstrk ( My heroes have always been cowboys)
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To: reaganaut1

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). Plus Latin and Classical Greek. Wasn’t easy; just required S-T-U-D-Y, something most kids refuse to do these days.

No wonder we have a country of *takers* and so few *makers*, anymore.


21 posted on 07/29/2012 6:19:17 AM PDT by carriage_hill (All libs and most dems think that life is just a sponge bath, with a happy ending.)
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To: Dr. Sivana

Latin helped me understand a foreign sailor’s directions to get to a bar in Rome.


22 posted on 07/29/2012 6:19:26 AM PDT by meatloaf (Support Senate S 1863 & House Bill 1380 to eliminate oil slavery.)
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To: reaganaut1

Liberal wet dream: If we can only eliminate logical thinking then we can avoid those grumpy old conservative arguments and base decisions on fallacies and feelings.


23 posted on 07/29/2012 6:19:26 AM PDT by Raycpa
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To: Tijeras_Slim

Can’t even build a deck without the answer to that one.


24 posted on 07/29/2012 6:19:53 AM PDT by Ramcat (Thank You American Veterans)
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To: There You Go Again
“Git ride of spelleng two. Thate wass harde subjek four me.”

Agree. We need more classes on how racist the Founding Fathers were; and of course more PE classes; and also more sports.
Not math or advanced English. Because they are just too hard.

25 posted on 07/29/2012 6:20:23 AM PDT by HereInTheHeartland (Encourage all of your Democrat friends to get out and vote on November 7th, the stakes are high.)
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To: Dr. Sivana

That is correct. My son took 4 years of Latin in high school and tested into junior level Latin in his first year of college. This is the one that had to tech himself high school math.


26 posted on 07/29/2012 6:20:36 AM PDT by yldstrk ( That is corrMy heroes have always been cowboys)
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To: There You Go Again

LALAL!


27 posted on 07/29/2012 6:20:40 AM PDT by carriage_hill (All libs and most dems think that life is just a sponge bath, with a happy ending.)
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To: reaganaut1

I think the real answer here is to take kids in the sixth grade and just plain drop math and algebra entirely... giving them a dose of business. You ought give each kid an entire year of projects relating to business math and making them ask questions over profit and loss. Make them consider the idea of moving from a small store-front with 2k square feet to a store with 6k square feet. They ought to analyze things and give you a number in regards to a relationship. This six plus six equal twelve deal is fine...but you need to ask yourself if you can make a true profit off two tractor rigs of apples. If you can’t make a profit....then why bother making the deal.

We are missing the real boat here....numbers matter, but you need to associate them with real things.


28 posted on 07/29/2012 6:20:47 AM PDT by pepsionice
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To: reaganaut1; Cincinatus' Wife; wintertime

“As I wrote in a previous FR thread Requiring Algebra II in high school gains momentum nationwide a large fraction of the population does not have the capacity for abstract thinking to do Algebra II.”

I’ll agree that SOME fraction of the population cannot handle Algebra 2, just as some cannot handle arithmetic.

The problem is that when you throw calculators at little kids and teach them the “Lattice Method” for multiplying and dividing, they WILL end up being useless in higher-level math, and the WILL appear to be incapable of handling it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y29XL99qM6s

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tr1qee-bTZI&feature=related

The problem is that there’s nothing to compare it to. Perhaps a controlled study of identical twins. One of the pair gets taught using the methods of the “educational experts”, while the other is taught correctly (i.e., no calculators, paper and pencil, and memorization). Then you compare the results after a 5 years. Most likely, the conclusion would be that the first batch is not able to handle higher-level math, while the second batch is more than capable.

Of course and experiment like that won’t happen (even though it actually did, once, by accident - but that’s for another post), because the Establishment will not like the conclusions. And the this type of experiment should NOT even be permitted, due to ethical concerns - i.e., crippling the futures of the first batch to be successful in society - because, in reality, this experiment would be no different than giving one batch of kids a good education and keeping the other batch of kids at home, doing nothing.


29 posted on 07/29/2012 6:20:47 AM PDT by BobL ( It's easy to be a saint when you have nothing on the line)
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To: BRL
The universities should not allow any student into college (borrowing big $) if they cannot pass basic competency tests.

I don't disagree, but do you understand what you're saying?

The majority of college students are borrowing money from the federal government. The more students borrow, the more indebted they are to Uncle Sam, thus making them slaves to the Fed. Make it harder to get into college, the government loses future wage slaves, thus losing future revenues.

Second, the colleges have essentially created a pipeline of funds from DC to their coffers. The higher their standards, the fewer students who attend, thus less money in their coffers to pay liberal, tenured professors.

Universities would allow 5th graders into their classrooms if they were paying to be there. College are no longer about the pursuit of higher education but about the pursuit of bigger buildings, more staffers, and more money.

30 posted on 07/29/2012 6:21:19 AM PDT by rarestia (It's time to water the Tree of Liberty.)
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To: yldstrk

The little secret is all math is self taught, it requires DISCIPLINE which is a four letter word for liberals.


31 posted on 07/29/2012 6:21:43 AM PDT by central_va ( I won't be reconstructed and I do not give a damn.)
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To: Baynative

Same here. Me and higher math never, ever, ever gelled.

My sister thinks algebra, calc, trig, and the like are funny and would burn right through problems.

However she would melt down at moderate to complex accounting problems. I tended to do rather well.


32 posted on 07/29/2012 6:21:51 AM PDT by wally_bert (It's sheer elegance in its simplicity! - The Middleman)
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To: Baynative

10 to 1 your teacher was a complete idiot


33 posted on 07/29/2012 6:22:10 AM PDT by yldstrk ( That is corrMy heroes have always been cowboys)
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To: central_va

Its one of those things where you don’t need it until you need it. And, when you don’t have it, you find yourself poorly suited for lots of jobs (typically the well paying variety).

Of course, it looks like the Dems want 50% of the population to just be on the dole anyway, staying home and watching the TV all day.


34 posted on 07/29/2012 6:22:19 AM PDT by rbg81
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To: rbg81

A computer program is just algebra.


35 posted on 07/29/2012 6:24:17 AM PDT by central_va ( I won't be reconstructed and I do not give a damn.)
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To: pepsionice

I would have gone for that in 6th grade. School was boring and easy (except for algebra) until HS Auto Mech.


36 posted on 07/29/2012 6:24:23 AM PDT by wally_bert (It's sheer elegance in its simplicity! - The Middleman)
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To: There You Go Again
“Git ride of spelleng two. Thate wass harde subjek four me.”

Besidz, now we have spellchik.

37 posted on 07/29/2012 6:24:35 AM PDT by pieceofthepuzzle
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To: rbg81

I used geometry to center pictures on my wall


38 posted on 07/29/2012 6:25:40 AM PDT by yldstrk ( That is corrMy heroes have always been cowboys)
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To: reaganaut1

Don’t need math at all by your reasoning.
Just use a calculator.
Who needs to know anything anyway?

Sheesh!


39 posted on 07/29/2012 6:26:14 AM PDT by bill1952 (Choice is an illusion created between those with power - and those without)
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To: reaganaut1
Even cooks need and use algebra.

/johnny

40 posted on 07/29/2012 6:26:14 AM PDT by JRandomFreeper (Gone Galt)
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To: Dr. Sivana
Barbie solves it!


41 posted on 07/29/2012 6:27:19 AM PDT by xp38
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To: Tijeras_Slim

42 posted on 07/29/2012 6:27:48 AM PDT by Lazamataz (I hate the Universe, and it hates me.)
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To: Tijeras_Slim

The last time I had to find x was junior year at college. The real world doesn’t care where x is.


43 posted on 07/29/2012 6:29:18 AM PDT by bgill
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To: reaganaut1

I don’t think Algebra 2 is needed. To get into certain college programs (i.e. Computer Science or Engineering), sure. Just like certain GPAs are required. But just to graduate from high school, no.


44 posted on 07/29/2012 6:29:31 AM PDT by nhwingut (Sarah Palin 12... No One Else)
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Comment #45 Removed by Moderator

To: reaganaut1

Oh good Lord.....what a bunch of candy-assed, lazy-minded bulls**t. Algebra is pretty basic math and it is NOT that freakin’ hard, folks.

We’ve become a dumbed-down nation of morons.


46 posted on 07/29/2012 6:30:23 AM PDT by RightOnline (I am Andrew Breitbart!)
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To: reaganaut1
The toll mathematics takes begins early. To our nation’s shame, one in four ninth graders fail to finish high school.

The shame is that "writers and social scientists" think the solution is to dumb down the curriculum. You don't make muscles stronger by asking them to do less. The same applies to young skulls full of mush.

47 posted on 07/29/2012 6:30:45 AM PDT by Fresh Wind ('People have got to know whether or not their president is a crook.' Richard M. Nixon)
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To: wally_bert

However she would melt down at moderate to complex accounting problems. I tended to do rather well.


Funny you should say that. I took calculus, diff Eq, linear algebra, and stats in college and did very well. But....I dropped the one accounting class I took. Why? I just found the procedure simultaneously repetitive and confusing. That always kind of bothered me.

Not trying to diss accountants. I have lots of respect for the profession, especially my accountant. But I do think there are different categories of math that require very different mental skill sets.


48 posted on 07/29/2012 6:31:20 AM PDT by rbg81
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To: reaganaut1

Why do most of these students need math at all? All the fast-food registers do the math for them.


49 posted on 07/29/2012 6:31:49 AM PDT by umgud (No Rats, No Rino's)
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To: yldstrk

I’ll second it about the teachers not being able to teach. I tutor middle school math. The kids are confused, the teachers are either math-illiterate or used to be engineers and cannot remember ever learning math; the math tutors are in high demand. The books are awful, too - seem to be written by drama majors not those who think math. I use the older texts whenever I can.


50 posted on 07/29/2012 6:32:42 AM PDT by bboop (Without justice, what else is the State but a great band of robbers? St. Augustine)
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