Monday, August 6, 2012

Getting Rid Of Algebra Is The Wrong Answer

Young Minds

Some persons think if a subject is too difficult for students, it should not be taught. The latest target is algebra, a subject that is as fundamental to rational thinking as is logic and deduction. An article in Scientific American counters the argument put forth by Andrew Hacker, a political science professor [New York Times: [“Is Algebra Necessary?”].

In algebra's defense, Evelyn Lamb raises the issue that teachers are often ill-equipped to teach algebra, which might be the source of why students often grapple with algebra, and it's not the subject itself.
Math certainly is incomprehensible to many students, but from where I sit, poor teaching is often the reason. Math education is failing many of our students. Few pre-college math teachers majored or even minored in math, and until more teachers do, improvements will be hard to come by. Ironically, it seems that people who have mastered “useless” algebra and other higher math topics tend to get jobs that pay more than middle school math teachers earn. I have the utmost respect for people with math degrees who choose to teach in spite of the poor pay and discipline problems, but few people make that choice. Math education needs help, but Hacker’s suggestions throw out the baby with the bathwater.
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? 
I might have been fortunate that I not only understood algebra but excelled in it, enjoying solving equations and mathematical puzzles; truly, I might have benefited from good teachers. Knowing algebra and more higher-level math provides students with confidence and the ability to take on more rigorous courses. Math provides a gateway to other fields and professions. This might not be known to many, but my engineering training, which includes a lot of math, has helped me become a better thinker, problem-solver and writer. It might be time to hire teachers who know and understand math.

You can read the rest of the article at [Scientific American]

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