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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: reaganaut1

I’m a lifelong mathphobe. I also once said that there would probably never be a need for me to use algebra. I was fourteen when I said that. Amazingly enough in the past 47 years I have rarely (never?) had a direct need for algebra. However, I have often (everyday!) had a need for abstract thinking which mathematics instruction does impart. This is just more dumbing down of the population to make it easier for the leftist elites to rule the proletariat.


51 posted on 07/29/2012 6:33:09 AM PDT by rex regnum insanit (falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus)
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To: rarestia
You hit the nail on the head. I had a hard time with Algebra in High School but the after the first week of Calc in college I figured out what the 2 years of Algebra was about. The difference was how the subject was presented.
52 posted on 07/29/2012 6:33:26 AM PDT by virginia lurker
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To: yldstrk; wintertime

“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.”

Don’t take this personal, because it’s certainly not meant that way, but I suspect that you are like the people that I work with.

When my kids were little, I made a point of teaching them reading and math, simply because I didn’t trust people that are basically strangers with a political agenda, to do it correctly. It worked, and my kids got roughly 6 grade levels ahead of their age (right into college). I still sent them to (private) school, but they knew it was just for daycare, at least in reading and math.

My kids are not geniuses and have ZERO INTEREST in learning the stuff - and got their butts red many, many, times - in order to get them to focus - they were and are NOTHING SPECIAL.

Anyway, as I saw my first kid pick up reading at age 3.5 and become fluent and fast at it a year later, I told my co-workers - and their reaction was all the same: “That’s all nice, but we pay for the public schools and I intend to get my money’s worth.”

I have since given up on them and don’t even bother talking to them anymore - but it is sure nice that my kids are getting free rides through college.


53 posted on 07/29/2012 6:33:42 AM PDT by BobL ( It's easy to be a saint when you have nothing on the line)
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To: reaganaut1

We should go to new math like they taught in the sixties. It started students on abstract algebra and logic. One more thing fire the teachers unions ; nothing stops a child’s learning process like teachers who can’t teach.


54 posted on 07/29/2012 6:33:51 AM PDT by the_daug
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To: bgill
The real world doesn’t care where x is.

Of course a blue eyed devil would think that!

55 posted on 07/29/2012 6:33:59 AM PDT by Tijeras_Slim
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To: umgud

You don’t need a High School degree to get a government check.


56 posted on 07/29/2012 6:34:13 AM PDT by Perdogg (Let's leave reading things in the Constitution that aren't there to liberals and Dems)
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To: reaganaut1

Gee, that chart looks like it has algebra in it somewhere. Pretty tough.

"Honey, can you get me another beer?"

57 posted on 07/29/2012 6:35:48 AM PDT by SnuffaBolshevik (In a tornado, even turkeys can fly.)
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To: rarestia
“...more creative ways to teach it.” AMEN. I struggled (got D's) in both HS and JC Algebra. It wasn't until I took physics at a genuine University that I understood why: Algebra (excepting the word problems) had to me been like a language with nothing to say. Once I realized that algebra (and all of math, really) is the language of the sciences (and thus, the key to solving some very, very interesting puzzles), I was hooked.

If I had been taught algebra in the context of physics in HS, it would have clicked. Just the way my brain is wired.

Commenting on the foolishness of the original article, I'd have a few years ago been shocked by such “thinking”. No longer. Our nation seems now to be overrun (or run) by a bunch of “big thinkers” from junior high who, because they've had smoke blow up their rears for so long, honestly believe that any opinion they happen to develop is a) correct, and b) beyond brilliant.

58 posted on 07/29/2012 6:36:27 AM PDT by drwoof
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To: SampleMan
I consider algebra and geometry as exercises. It is orderly and there's a REAL answer. Sure beats writing those "pretty, descriptive" paragraphs for English Class.

Remember an old dissertation on when we were considering going totally metric....One of the old phrases that would be effected: "Walk a mile in my shoes".

Psst....one college prof made us use only a slide rule. He also had flash exams....where we were told to approximate the answer in our head and write it down. What a great teacher.

59 posted on 07/29/2012 6:37:34 AM PDT by Sacajaweau
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To: rarestia
Algebra is not impossible. We need to come up with more creative, practical ways to teach it.

Well I certainly agree with that. And the solution is pretty obvious to me. Here is the way you do it:

1. Burn all the politically correct, 10 lb, full color, very expensive algebra texts currently in vogue and ban their use forever.

2. Purchase any 1910 algebra textbook weighing in at 6-7 ounces or so and use it to teach algebra using the old fashioned and proven Theory, Example Problems and Problems for the Student approach.

Advantages: Schools save $billions, students learn algebra and they don't need a backpack to lug their math book to school.

60 posted on 07/29/2012 6:38:01 AM PDT by InterceptPoint (.)
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To: reaganaut1

I did very well with Algebra I and Geometry, My Algebra II teacher was absolutely horrendous. I did less than miserable that year, my parents were very upset with me over it. Finally after some one on one consultations my Dad said and I quote “She couldn’t teach someone how to add one plus one.”

So I transferred over to a different class that concentrated on “practical” mathematics. That one was fun and taught me how math was used in our everyday lives.


61 posted on 07/29/2012 6:38:18 AM PDT by The Working Man
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To: Tijeras_Slim

“Y” is that side “x”. A wants to know.


62 posted on 07/29/2012 6:38:43 AM PDT by Sacajaweau
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To: BobL

You OBVIOUSLY didn’t read all my posts, genius. And no I didn’t have to paddle my kids to teach them, you are abusive, loser. My kids went to private Montessori and got a really good basis for everything and were reading prior to kindergarten.

“Get my money’s worth” get lost loser


63 posted on 07/29/2012 6:40:30 AM PDT by yldstrk ( That is corrMy heroes have always been cowboys)
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To: Baynative

ROFL!!!

That was a great way to start my morning computer session.

I have a B.S. degree in Chemical Engineering. I tell people all the time that the MOST useful course I EVER took in school was... algebra. I still use it today.. frequently.

That said, I think Algebra I covered all the parts that I really use. I can see how a great number of people really DON’T NEED Algebra II.


64 posted on 07/29/2012 6:41:08 AM PDT by SomeCallMeTim ( The best minds are not in government. If any were, business would hire them)
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To: reaganaut1

Isn’t anything before algebra just arithmetic? Which isn’t being taught very well either.


65 posted on 07/29/2012 6:41:08 AM PDT by CPOSharky (zero slogan: Expect less, pay more. (apologies to Target))
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To: Ramcat
Exactly, what is the cost per ounce of foods at the store in different packages/sizes? What is you're gas mileage on regular unleaded or premium, is it worth the differential price per gallon? What really is your cost per mile with a conventional car vs a hybrid, will you ever make up the initial cost delta? What is the cost per round of ammo x vs y 50 rounds at a time, 100, or 1000?

No, the sheep don't need to understand math, that way they are more likely to believe the line of {expletive} the liberal elite, fascists, and more equal pigs try to feed them.

Full disclosure here - I like math, and I have two masters degrees in engineering... So I'm coming at the from the other side, just about the polar opposite of the guy saying you don't need algebra. I use it every single day.

66 posted on 07/29/2012 6:41:27 AM PDT by ThunderSleeps (Stop obama now! Stop the hussein - insane agenda!)
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To: HereInTheHeartland
Agree. We need more classes on how racist the Founding Fathers were; and of course more PE classes; and also more sports.

Sports and PE are too competitive and dangerous. Let's stick to classes on how racist the Founding Fathers were.

67 posted on 07/29/2012 6:42:03 AM PDT by Yardstick
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To: RightOnline

Agreed. How could you even successfully live life without Alg1 and Geometry ? You can’t even re-proportion a recipe without solving for X - wtf ? I get no calc or trig or AB but jeez -


68 posted on 07/29/2012 6:42:38 AM PDT by major-pelham
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To: yldstrk

“Get my money’s worth” get lost loser”

You OBVIOUSLY didn’t read my first sentence. This may help:
www.hookedonphonics.com


69 posted on 07/29/2012 6:43:45 AM PDT by BobL ( It's easy to be a saint when you have nothing on the line)
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To: reaganaut1
The real beef with Algebra is it doesn't lend itself easily to Twitter, Facebook, or other social networking plus it is hard to learn and requres mental discipline. After all, it requires one to learn a difficult subject and perform it correctly to get the proper answer. That is not a popular pastime these days. It's not something you can make up and bullsh!t as you go along.

I hated Algebra. I struggled with that and all other forms of math and engineering courses, which I took for years because they were required. But as difficult as it was, it was good exercise for my brain. It disciplined me to knuckle down and concentrate and succeed in the difficult things.

70 posted on 07/29/2012 6:44:52 AM PDT by Gritty (The children are our future. ThatÂ’s the problem. - Mark Steyn)
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To: yldstrk

And by the way, you ADMITTED to sending at least one of your kids to public school, you are OBVIOUSLY a failure as a parent.

(see, that’s how you read my post)


71 posted on 07/29/2012 6:44:52 AM PDT by BobL ( It's easy to be a saint when you have nothing on the line)
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To: yldstrk
I used algebra to divide the candy bar between me and my bro.

The older kid got more because the bigger body required more energy.

Guess who was older.

And guess what happened when he got bigger than me....I had to buy my own candy.

72 posted on 07/29/2012 6:45:23 AM PDT by Sacajaweau
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To: central_va

A computer program is just algebra.


A computer program is structured logic that makes heavy use of Boolean algebra (to specify conditions).


73 posted on 07/29/2012 6:45:56 AM PDT by rbg81
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To: BobL

kook


74 posted on 07/29/2012 6:47:00 AM PDT by yldstrk ( That is corrMy heroes have always been cowboys)
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To: meatloaf
Latin helped me understand a foreign sailor’s directions to get to a bar in Rome.

He may well have saved your life!

75 posted on 07/29/2012 6:49:02 AM PDT by Lady Lucky (If you believe what you're saying, quit making taxable income.)
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To: Sacajaweau
It is orderly and there's a REAL answer.

That's the problem: there is no way to subjectively grade a math test, no way for poor academic performance to hide.

Going to a university is a waste of time and limited resources for artists, poets, basketball players. The cost exceeds any return on investment. Unfortunately they are incapable of doing the math on that.

76 posted on 07/29/2012 6:49:13 AM PDT by Reeses (Sustainable energy? Let's first have sustainable government.)
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To: bgill
The last time I had to find x was junior year at college. The real world doesn’t care where x is.

I'm sure a pesticide applicator says that all the time.

77 posted on 07/29/2012 6:49:14 AM PDT by the_daug
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To: wally_bert

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

You must have been in my school. Auto Mechanics was KICK BUTT, my favorite class of high school. I’ve used those skills ever since.


78 posted on 07/29/2012 6:49:19 AM PDT by BobL ( It's easy to be a saint when you have nothing on the line)
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To: Sacajaweau

yep, that’s how that deal goes down, lol!


79 posted on 07/29/2012 6:50:00 AM PDT by yldstrk ( That is corrMy heroes have always been cowboys)
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To: reaganaut1

Math teaches one to think, an asset sadly lacking in millions of Americans these days.


80 posted on 07/29/2012 6:50:37 AM PDT by Don Corleone ("Oil the gun..eat the cannoli. Take it to the Mattress.")
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To: Tijeras_Slim

why does this guy look so similar to obama


81 posted on 07/29/2012 6:50:49 AM PDT by yldstrk ( That is corrMy heroes have always been cowboys)
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To: Dr. Sivana
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.

I would completely get behind that. Our nation, heck, our WORLD would be much better off if kids started learning a trade at 12 and were ready to do it by 16. I certainly wish I had been.
82 posted on 07/29/2012 6:52:03 AM PDT by arderkrag (ABOs are Romneybot trolls. LOOKING FOR ROLEPLAYERS. Check Profile.)
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To: reaganaut1

This article is another chapter in our long national suicide narrative, and the dumbing down of America. Real life: you have do to things you don’t particularly want to do in order to get where you want to be.


83 posted on 07/29/2012 6:52:14 AM PDT by La Lydia
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To: yldstrk

“kook”

LOL.


84 posted on 07/29/2012 6:53:13 AM PDT by BobL ( It's easy to be a saint when you have nothing on the line)
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To: reaganaut1; Izzy Dunne

Of course algebra is necessary for the 25% of students who are legitimate high school graduation candidates.

The 1912 math exam, and all its cousins, were taken by less than 10% of the population - the smart 10%.

Universal education past eight grade is a failure and a disaster, and until compulsory education stops at age 14, there’s not a whole lot else that can be done to improve the situation.


85 posted on 07/29/2012 6:53:43 AM PDT by Jim Noble (Diseases desperate grown are by desperate appliance relieved or not at all.)
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To: Reeses

“That’s the problem: there is no way to subjectively grade a math test, no way for poor academic performance to hide.”

You might want to reconsider that, at least with the way ‘math’ is now being taught at the public schools. They easily got around that problem.

But, yes, your point is correct for tests that actually measure mathematical skill.


86 posted on 07/29/2012 6:54:55 AM PDT by BobL ( It's easy to be a saint when you have nothing on the line)
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To: rarestia

All you write about the universities is true: it’s the big bucks they seek, not the dissemination of knowledge.


87 posted on 07/29/2012 6:55:20 AM PDT by Theodore R. (Past is prologue: The American people again let us down in this election cycle.)
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To: Dr. Sivana
Algebra is not impossible. We need to come up with more creative, practical ways to teach it.

You sound like a smart person. Do you really believe you can teach it over the IQ range 75-95?

88 posted on 07/29/2012 6:55:46 AM PDT by Jim Noble (Diseases desperate grown are by desperate appliance relieved or not at all.)
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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.


89 posted on 07/29/2012 6:56:17 AM PDT by CPOSharky (zero slogan: Expect less, pay more. (apologies to Target))
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To: reaganaut1

is thinking necessary in life?


90 posted on 07/29/2012 6:57:39 AM PDT by Reily
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To: pepsionice
We are missing the real boat here....numbers matter, but you need to associate them with real things.

Rocks, ruminants and roots are real things. So are rockets and radios. Algebra won't teach you the difference between the two sets, but then, without algebra there would not be two such sets.

91 posted on 07/29/2012 6:57:53 AM PDT by Lady Lucky (If you believe what you're saying, quit making taxable income.)
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To: reaganaut1
You bring an interesting perspective to this.

My take is that kids today are no less intelligent and no less capable of learning than their predecessors. What's changed in this country is our definition of what constitutes an "education." As others have pointed out here, there was a time when a high school education was truly an effective education, and not just what it has become today -- a bare minimum "credential" that means nothing except that its holder had the patience to spend 12 years in a public school.

We are going to continue to have these debates until we, as a society, get serious about what "education" means and how we go about promoting it among our citizens.

92 posted on 07/29/2012 6:58:12 AM PDT by Alberta's Child ("If you touch my junk, I'm gonna have you arrested.")
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To: drwoof
If I had been taught algebra in the context of physics in HS, it would have clicked.

Good point. Too many math teachers really don't have an answer to a student's question "why do we have to learn this stuff?"

It's really not the teacher's fault. It's the way the material is presented (and in many school districts teachers have no choice in this). A typical lesson might start with 20 repetitious abstract problems, followed by one or two practical examples.

The order should be reversed. Present the practical problems first (from physics, economics, architecture, whatever), then go from there.

93 posted on 07/29/2012 7:00:21 AM PDT by Leaning Right (Why am I carrying this lantern? you ask. I am looking for the next Reagan.)
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To: bboop

I think I take offense at that remark.... I’m an engineer who has a teaching certificate in middle / high school math.

Personally I think engineers make the best math teachers. They have application experience and can bring it alive with actual problems, and labs.

Some math teachers use the state guidelines and simply teach the test or teach the book - which works but doesn’t inspire.


94 posted on 07/29/2012 7:00:29 AM PDT by mike_9958
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To: BobL

lol


95 posted on 07/29/2012 7:00:43 AM PDT by yldstrk ( That is corrMy heroes have always been cowboys)
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To: meatloaf
Latin helped me understand a foreign sailor’s directions to get to a bar in Rome

How do you know he wasn't a priest with skinny legs and bad teeth?

96 posted on 07/29/2012 7:01:10 AM PDT by Lady Lucky (If you believe what you're saying, quit making taxable income.)
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To: There You Go Again

You joke about bad spelling, and that’s OK, but why the abysmal spelling ability of the typical semi-educated American?


97 posted on 07/29/2012 7:02:18 AM PDT by luvbach1 (Stop the destruction in 2012 or continue the decline)
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To: Baynative
Math, particularly algebra, is something for which you have to reach that "clicking" point to really get and, consequently, enjoy. Many, if not most, people never reach that point. A decent teacher or parent is usually the key.

I was one of those who dreaded math and just didn't think I'd ever get it. It was a sixth-grade teacher who really turned me on to it with a little extra attention and her own enthusiasm. I had trouble later on in high school, but again drew from that foundation I got earlier in sixth grade, and ended up tutoring calculus students in college.

98 posted on 07/29/2012 7:03:11 AM PDT by fwdude ( You cannot compromise with that which you must defeat.)
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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.

99 posted on 07/29/2012 7:03:17 AM PDT by wintertime (:-))
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To: HereInTheHeartland
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.

You forgot to mention instructions on putting a condom on a cucumber. I am 74 years old and I don't know how I have managed to survive this many years without having been taught the fine points of putting a condom on a cucumber.

100 posted on 07/29/2012 7:03:20 AM PDT by dearolddad
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