Is algebra necessary? Part III

This continues an earlier post and another post, Is algebra necessary? Yes, algebra is necessary.

Jennifer Ouellette writes in her post on Scientific American blogs, Make Us Do the Math:

Well, I’m a former math phobe. I hated algebra, and avoided all advanced math and science until well into my 20s. But I’m standing in solidarity with the fusty old scientific establishment on this one. [...]

[T]here is a deeper, uglier under-current to Hacker’s article. What he’s really saying is that we should know our place in society, accept that we’re just not smart enough and don’t need to worry our pretty little heads anymore about anything that might interfere with our enjoyment of American Idol. It’s not like we were ever going to amount to much anyway, amirite? As journalist/science fan Jesse Emspak observed on Twitter: “The argument isn’t about math. It’s really about whether anyone but the privileged should be educated.”

Read the full post at the Scientific American.

Is algebra necessary, Part II

A lively discussion of Andrew Hacker’s op-ed Is Algebra Necessary?  in the New York Times (see previous post) continues.

Evelyn Lamb ‘s op-ed on the Scientific American website,
Abandoning Algebra Is Not the Answer, a quote:

What is algebra anyway? It’s a huge subject, but at its heart, it’s about relationships. How does a change in one quantity affect another quantity when they are related in a certain way? Hacker suggests that we need arithmetic but don’t need algebra. But it’s really difficult to separate these two skills. Algebra and geometry, another subject Hacker could do without, help develop logical skills and abstract reasoning so we can understand why we are making less money than before if we get a 20 percent pay cut followed by a 20 percent raise (or a 20 percent raise followed by a 20 percent pay cut—hello, commutative law of multiplication!) or how much merchandise we can purchase if we have $100 and a 25 percent off coupon.

 in Huffington PostAlgebra Is Essential in a 21st Century Economy. A quote:

One fallacy in Hacker’s reasoning is clear: Why single out mathematics? Yes, a knowledge of calculus may or may not help one negotiate through traffic or connect one’s computer to the Internet, but the same could be said for many other disciplines. How does knowing whom Hamlet killed accidentally help one be a better consumer? Does knowing the history of the Spanish-American War help one complete one’s tax return?

And see blogs by Rob Knop and RiShawn Biddle.


Is algebra necessary? Yes, algebra is necessary

Two competing claims in the mainstream newspapers:

Andrew Hacker in The New York TimesIs algebra necessary? A brief quote:

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.

Daniel Willingham in the Washington Post: Yes, algeba is necessary. A brief quote:

Hacker overlooks the possibility that the mathematics learned in school, even if seldom applied directly, makes students better able to learn new quantitative skills. The on-the-job training in mathematics that Hacker envisions will go a whole lot better with an employee who gained a solid footing in math in school. [...]

[In]  teaching the specific skills that people need, you had better be confident that you’re going to cover all those skills. Because if you teach students the significance of the Consumer Price Index they are not going to know how to teach themselves the significance of projected inflation rates on their investment in CDs. Their practical knowledge will be specific to what you teach them, and won’t transfer.

The best bet for knowledge that can apply to new situations is an abstract understanding — seeing that apparently different problems have a similar underlying structure. And the best bet for students to gain this abstract understanding is to teach it explicitly.