Is Algebra Necessary?

May 29th, 2015
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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.

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OpinionIs Algebra Necessary?Adam HayesBy ANDREW HACKERPublished: July 28, 2012 , The New York TimesA 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? Ive found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldnt. Enlarge This ImageAdam HayesMy 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. (Im 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, were actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of num

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