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The Case Against Algebra 908

HughPickens.com writes: Dana Goldstein writes at Slate that political scientist Andrew Hacker proposes replacing algebra II and calculus in the high school and college with a practical course in statistics for citizenship. According to Hacker, only mathematicians and some engineers actually use advanced math in their day-to-day work and even the doctors, accountants, and coders of the future shouldn't have to master abstract math that they'll never need. For many math is often an impenetrable barrier to academic success. Algebra II, which includes polynomials and logarithms, and is required by the new Common Core curriculum standards used by 47 states and territories, drives dropouts at both the high school and college levels. Hacker's central argument is that advanced mathematics requirements, like algebra, trigonometry and calculus, are "a harsh and senseless hurdle" keeping far too many Americans from completing their educations and leading productive lives. "We are really destroying a tremendous amount of talent—people who could be talented in sports writing or being an emergency medical technician, but can't even get a community college degree," says Hacker. "I regard this math requirement as highly irrational." According to Hacker many of those who struggled through a traditional math regimen feel that doing so annealed their character while critics says that mathematics is used as a hoop, a badge, a totem to impress outsiders and elevate a profession's status. "It's not hard to understand why Caltech and M.I.T. want everyone to be proficient in mathematics. But it's not easy to see why potential poets and philosophers face a lofty mathematics bar. Demanding algebra across the board actually skews a student body, not necessarily for the better."
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The Case Against Algebra

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  • Ban math (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:10AM (#51627985)

    Math should be banned and replaced with something more practical in the USA... like watching reruns of Seinfeld, or learning on how to turn off the ceiling fan if the batteries in the remote die.

    • Math should be banned and replaced with something more practical in the USA... learning on how to turn off the ceiling fan if the batteries in the remote die.

      That can be done?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      or learning on how to turn off the ceiling fan if the batteries in the remote die.

      This is when the second amendment becomes useful.

  • Difficulty? (Score:5, Informative)

    by JBMcB ( 73720 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:13AM (#51627995)

    A decent statistics class isn't any less difficult than an algebra class.

    • Re:Difficulty? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by digitig ( 1056110 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:20AM (#51628055)

      More to the point, how on Earth are people going to be able to do statistics without a good grasp of algebra?

      • Re:Difficulty? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:52AM (#51628269)

        Forget algebra, how can you teach stats to someone with zero exposure to calculus? Probability theory can't be described without limits and infinite summations, i.e. you can't comprehend it without calculus.

        • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @11:13AM (#51628887)

          Forget algebra, how can you teach stats to someone with zero exposure to calculus?

          You can do a basic stats class for people who haven't had calculus. I know because I have taught and tutored people in stats who haven't had calculus. You will find very few stats classes that will require you to actually have a deep understanding of calculus. Sure, if you do know calc you can go deeper into stats but it isn't vital to start with. You can teach Bayes theorem, conditional probability, and lots more without ever doing a derivative or integral. I made my living doing statistical simulations and none of it required me to actually do any calculus to get useful answers.

          Probability theory can't be described without limits and infinite summations, i.e. you can't comprehend it without calculus.

          Not true, at least at the introductory level. Most people can understand a bell curve just fine without ever having taken a calculus class. Just because they can't derive the formula for the curve doesn't mean they can't understand the concept it represents. It's no different than intro physics in that regard. Plenty of people take intro physics prior to or concurrently with calculus. It's when you want to go deeper that you might need to understand some calculus but most people will never get there.

      • Re:Difficulty? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo@worl[ ]net ['d3.' in gap]> on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:58AM (#51628325) Homepage

        It sounds like they only want to replace the higher level algebra stuff, so the base would still be there as a necessary foundation for studying statistics.

        This sounds like a great idea. Statistics are regularly, routinely abused to mislead people. As a life skill for the general population, statistics is going to be much more useful than advanced algebra or calculus.

      • Re:Difficulty? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by superdude72 ( 322167 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @10:16AM (#51628461)

        He suggests dropping Algebra II as a requirement. The first two statistics courses I took in college had only Algebra I as a prerequisite. This wasn't "statistics for poets," either, they were the same courses taken by math majors.

        • Re:Difficulty? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @11:30AM (#51629045)

          He suggests dropping Algebra II as a requirement. The first two statistics courses I took in college had only Algebra I as a prerequisite.

          As someone who actually taught Algebra II in high school (years ago), and who taught it one year in a lower-class mostly minority school district, I'll offer a few observations:

          (1) I think a stats course would be a great alternative for many students compared to a second year of algebra.

          (2) Algebra II was in fact a barrier for many students. There was a high rate of students failing and dropping the course. (At that time, in the state I was teaching, it wasn't strictly required for graduation -- but it was strongly recommended.)

          (3) However, the problems with algebra II often start with teaching in algebra I. The algebra I and "pre-algebra" classes tend to be the "dumping ground" in many school districts for less qualified teachers. Teachers with real math degrees often were required to take stuff a lot more complicated than high school, and they often find it barely interesting to teach calculus or pre-calculus. So, in most places the qualified teachers who understand math often teach those upper-level courses, and the random coaches and people who barely passed the math certification test end up teaching algebra I. (There are serious teacher shortages in many places in the US, particularly for secondary math and science.)

          (4) As an algebra II teacher, I was confronted with many students who had had a substitute teacher in algebra I for a large portion of the year. The district simply couldn't find qualified teachers to fill those classrooms. The students knew nothing. The previous algebra II teacher (a really smart woman) quit in the middle of the year, because she recognized this and wanted to either (a) send the students back to algebra I since they shouldn't have passed in the first place or (b) require many of the students to come in for mandatory tutoring outside of school hours. She wanted to help the students and was willing to take her own personal time to fix this problem. But the administration said neither was possible under state law, since the students already "had credit" for algebra I. After fighting the battle for a while, she quit.

          (5) In many states, algebra teachers are forced to make stupid curriculum choices due to state-mandated curricula. I haven't looked at the new Common Core approaches and what they require, but I can tell you from my experience that we often were required to spend a ridiculous time on stuff that might have been useful for scientists and engineers headed for college in the 1950s, but these skills were much less relevant with modern calculators and computers.

          (6) In general, most state curricula have tended to emphasize symbolic manipulation over real-world application (which often comes with true understanding). I was forced to spend many weeks going over how to put conic section equations into standard form, but there was nothing in state guidelines asking teachers to spend time on much more relevant real-life stuff, like applications of basic exponential equations to calculating loan terms or mortgages, investments, etc. When at some point I realized that only 2 of the 140 students I was teaching that year knew what the term "compound interest" meant, I actually abandoned the state standards for a couple weeks because I thought it was my moral responsibility to teach these kids some actual skills that could be useful in personal finance -- this would likely be the last class that many of them would ever take in their lives.

          (7) Given the poor teaching and introduction to basic abstractions like variables that students receive in pre-algebra and algebra I in many schools, the only way to "teach algebra II" is learning stupid abstract algorithms for symbolic manipulation, which are generally forgotten a few weeks later. The understanding of basic algebra is often so poor that you really can't teach algebra II on a deep level

    • But statistics is only really useful if you want to misrepresent your data
    • Re:Difficulty? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by vtcodger ( 957785 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @10:05AM (#51628375)

      AFAICS, most people who think they understand statistics don't. What they understand is how to apply some rote rules to data that all too often shouldn't have those particular rules used on it. If we're going teach anything in that domain a survey of probability would likely be a lot more useful.

      It's been half a century and perhaps I misremember, but I think a course built around Darrell Huff's "How To Lie With Statistics" might be a lot more useful to most High School Students than a standard mathematical treatment. And it'd certainly be a lot less mind-numbing.

      • Re:Difficulty? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Cytotoxic ( 245301 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @12:19PM (#51629367)

        AFAICS, most people who think they understand statistics don't. What they understand is how to apply some rote rules to data that all too often shouldn't have those particular rules used on it.

        This is undoubtedly true. I can completely get behind the author's notion that more people need to understand statistics. When I was in basic bio-medical research it was appalling how often statistics were not properly applied. Mostly it was "run a student T test and look for P values of .05 or less" with no further analysis. It was not at all uncommon to do a paper at journal club that had serious problems with their data, but had nice looking numbers supporting statistical significance.

        I include myself, of course. I had enough statistics to know how to apply the formulas and to spot some basic issues, but until I collaborated with a real PhD statistician I had no idea just how bad it was. She basically showed me that I had no idea what I was doing, even though I was following the industry standard protocols. And she showed me just how awful the statistics were in most of the work I was reading. At least I think she did. I don't know. Most of what she was talking about I had to take on faith..... because, you know.... my knowledge of statistics isn't that advanced.

  • As long as.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rogue974 ( 657982 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:13AM (#51627997)

    I will agree to this as long as they remove foreign language requirement for engineers! The accountants and poets don't like high end math, I don't like foreign language requirement (and I am fluent in more then 1 language and an engineer)!

    • by Destoo ( 530123 )

      Might as well ban local language. Just code!

    • Re:As long as.... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:51AM (#51628255)

      The problem is the focus on grades, which is preventing us from learning.

      I had an argument a while back about this.
      Me: College Requirements for graduation should have more Advanced Math classes, as Math teaches you valuable problem solving skills.
      Education Major: Not everyone is good at Math, so they shouldn't be forced to take the classes and hurt their GPA
      Me: Well I am not good at English classes and they are hurting my GPA so I shouldn't have to take them?
      Education Major: No you need to take these classes, They offer valuable skills for understanding people and society.
      Me: But Math offers valuable problem solving skills.
      Education Major: But not everyone is good at Math. ...

      The problem is with our grading system, we reward people who already know the answers, and not on what is learned. For Liberal Arts, you many can BS their way a good grade on a paper. Approaches include a war of attrition where you give so much words that it is impossible for the grader to really grade correctly. Play to the graders ideology You can twist the topic around to support what ever cause the grader feels strongly at. It is difficult to BS in math. If the answer is correct or not, that is where the hatred of math is.

      Math isn't about working hard, it is more about doing it right. So people make mistakes and they can't make it up by just doing more. So they feel like they suck at math because where they may be an A+ student they get Cs in Math. Because Math Grading is normally very mechanical.

      However from my experience classes I got a C in are the classes I have learned the most in, the ones I got in A in was because it covered topics I already knew a lot about.

  • by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:14AM (#51628005) Homepage

    There are plenty of good arguments to be made for moving the math curiculum to statistics, combinatorics and other areas, but "making more people pass the exam" isn't one of them.

    • by chispito ( 1870390 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:45AM (#51628219)

      There are plenty of good arguments to be made for moving the math curiculum to statistics, combinatorics and other areas, but "making more people pass the exam" isn't one of them.

      It is if your job is to "improve education."

    • by Shortguy881 ( 2883333 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:57AM (#51628305)
      Don't worry. Next on the docket is English Comp I and II. People don't read and write anymore. A practical film education class would be more useful.
    • by pr0nbot ( 313417 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @10:08AM (#51628399)

      Up to a certain age, I'd say education is about giving kids a good all-round level of knowledge.

      If it turned out that in my Perfect Education System, the class requiring students to learn to juggle 19 balls was causing a lot of people to drop out, I might reflect on whether it's really a necessary skill for most people. That seems to be the spirit of the story.

      On a related matter, I do often reflect how much more useful it would have been for me to learn to cook, tile, plumb, repair electricals, etc. Sure, I can learn all that now as an adult, but equally I could read up on the Tudors or plate tectonics now if I really wanted to.

  • Logic? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MindStalker ( 22827 ) <mindstalker AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:16AM (#51628013) Journal

    How about a course in logic, particularly Boolean logic? I agree, very few people really need to understand logarithms or even polynomials. But learning how to think, and solve problems is important.

    • Re:Logic? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by dosius ( 230542 ) <bridget@buric.co> on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:25AM (#51628093) Journal

      We used to have a 3-year state-designed mixed course, where I (9th grade, usually) was mostly algebra, II was mostly geometry and III was mostly trig - but there was other stuff thrown in and the beginning of II was a unit on Boolean logic.

      • by Zak3056 ( 69287 )

        Are you from the State of New York? I remember that curriculum, and the books (Integrated Mathematics I, II, and III--the red, blue, and green books) that went along with it. I actually enjoyed that particular path, and thought they were great books--I actually still have copies of them somewhere, and I'm a bit disheartened that you say "used to." On the other hand, I also remember hearing recently that the New York Board of Education is working on seriously devaluing the regents diploma as a means of bo

    • This! Strongly this! In college I had a course in Boolean logic and general logic as a math course. It formed the basis I use as a programmer. As a teacher I'm finding that the students are lacking an understanding of problem solving and mathematical logic, which I wish the school would address.
    • How about a course in logic, particularly Boolean logic? I agree, very few people really need to understand logarithms or even polynomials. But learning how to think, and solve problems is important.

      My favorite high school class was geometry, and not because I ever had any great need to measure the elements of circles, lines and polygons. What I took to was the idea of formal proof, and what I didn't know at the time was that it was pointing me to a career in software development, a field whose very existence very few people were aware of at the time.

    • Re:Logic? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by pr0nbot ( 313417 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @10:13AM (#51628435)

      I did the International Baccalaureate (a European curriculum for high schoolers), in which you got to choose the subjects you wanted to study, within some constraints. However, there was one mandatory class called Theory of Knowledge. This was a combination of logic, ethics and philosophy, and was by far the most interesting class I ever took at school.

    • Re:Logic? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by UnknownSoldier ( 67820 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @11:43AM (#51629103)

      > But learning how to think, and solve problems is important.

      Concur 100% as does Paul Lockhart's A Mathematician's Lament [maa.org] agree with you: (I've included an exert)

      The first thing to understand is that mathematics is an art. The difference between math and
      the other arts, such as music and painting, is that our culture does not recognize it as such.
      Everyone understands that poets, painters, and musicians create works of art, and are expressing
      themselves in word, image, and sound. In fact, our society is rather generous when it comes to
      creative expression; architects, chefs, and even television directors are considered to be working
      artists. So why not mathematicians?

      Part of the problem is that nobody has the faintest idea what it is that mathematicians do.
      The common perception seems to be that mathematicians are somehow connected with
      science -- perhaps they help the scientists with their formulas, or feed big numbers into
      computers for some reason or other. There is no question that if the world had to be divided into
      the "poetic dreamers" and the "rational thinkers" most people would place mathematicians in the
      latter category

      By concentrating on what, and leaving out why, mathematics is reduced to an empty shell.
      The art is not in the "truth" but in the explanation, the argument. It is the argument itself which
      gives the truth its context, and determines what is really being said and meant. Mathematics is
      the art of explanation. If you deny students the opportunity to engage in this activity -- to pose
      their own problems, make their own conjectures and discoveries, to be wrong, to be creatively
      frustrated, to have an inspiration, and to cobble together their own explanations and proofs -- you
      deny them mathematics itself. So no, I'm not complaining about the presence of facts and
      formulas in our mathematics classes, I'm complaining about the lack of mathematics in our
      mathematics classes.

      If your art teacher were to tell you that painting is all about filling in numbered regions, you
      would know that something was wrong. The culture informs you -- there are museums and
      galleries, as well as the art in your own home. Painting is well understood by society as a
      medium of human expression. Likewise, if your science teacher tried to convince you that
      astronomy is about predicting a person's future based on their date of birth, you would know she
      was crazy -- science has seeped into the culture to such an extent that almost everyone knows
      about atoms and galaxies and laws of nature. But if your math teacher gives you the impression,
      either expressly or by default, that mathematics is about formulas and definitions and
      memorizing algorithms, who will set you straight?

      The cultural problem is a self-perpetuating monster: students learn about math from their
      teachers, and teachers learn about it from their teachers, so this lack of understanding and
      appreciation for mathematics in our culture replicates itself indefinitely. Worse, the perpetuation
      of this "pseudo-mathematics," this emphasis on the accurate yet mindless manipulation of
      symbols, creates its own culture and its own set of values. Those who have become adept at it
      derive a great deal of self-esteem from their success. The last thing they want to hear is that
      math is really about raw creativity and aesthetic sensitivity. Many a graduate student has come
      to grief when they discover, after a decade of being told they were "good at math," that in fact
      they have no real mathematical talent and are just very good at following directions. Math is not
      about following directions, it's about making new directions.

  • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:16AM (#51628017)
    As soon as you replace a number it a calculation with a variable like cell A1, you have jumped into algebra.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:17AM (#51628029)

    http://thebestpageintheuniverse.net/c.cgi?u=math

  • by ausekilis ( 1513635 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:18AM (#51628033)
    So many here get their underwear riding up because they have to solve an abstract math problem?

    Okay, say we do drop Algebra and higher from the common curriculum. Then we're going to go even lower in the list of math rankings by country [businessinsider.com]. Perhaps it's because of the way it's taught, not because of the material. I distinctly remember hating word problems because they were always so inane. "If the flag pole is 10 feet tall and the sun is at a 30 degree angle, how long is the shadow?". I also remember having the teacher assign 50 problems in one night (2 through 100, evens only since the answers to odds were in the back of the book). Now, with this common core nonsense (no idiot left behind), we are just cramming more of this crap down kids throats.

    What was lacking for me was the true application. I hated math growing up, and ended up being an engineer. It wasn't until I started to realize the cool things I could do that required math, such as tinkering in OpenGL, that I really started to latch on to it.

    I'm curious, how is it taught in other countries that routinely get higher rankings in math/science? Is it a matter of teaching? a matter of culture? How do the Japanese view math? The Germans? Chinese?
    • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:45AM (#51628215) Homepage Journal

      distinctly remember hating word problems because they were always so inane. "If the flag pole is 10 feet tall and the sun is at a 30 degree angle, how long is the shadow?"

      Those are the best kind of problems, because they test understanding. Using those instead of rote formulas is what other countries do and is one reason why they score so well.

      In your example case, it's not about whether you use the "right" formula, but whether you apply your knowledge to get a correct answer.

      The thought process could go something like:
      The flag pole, ground shadow and line from the end of the ground shadow to the top of the pole forms a triangle. The pole is 10', and the angle at the end of the shadow is 30 degrees.
      sine(30) is 0.5[*], so the flag pole height is half of the hypotenuse (distance between end of shadow and top of pole). So the hypotenuse is 20'. The cosine of 30 degrees is about 0.866[*], so the ground shadow will be about 0.866 times 20, or about 17.3'
      (Or alternatively, if not remembering what a cosine is, deduce that the opposite angle must be 60 degrees, and use sine(60) instead)
      Then the litmus test - does the answer seem reasonable? 30 degrees is the sun being rather low, so shadows are long. It seems reasonable that the shadow is almost twice as long as the height of the pole.
      No x, y, z needed. By all means, use them, but you should be able to calculate stuff like this in your head, at least to get an approximate answer.
      That's where we fail - our students memorize, they don't *understand*, so they can't apply the knowledge to real life. So you end up with ramps that are too steep for a wheelchair, or extend into the street, because someone didn't understand simple trig.

      [*] At least the 30/45/60 degree sines should be memorized, because they crop up so often. Much like pi and the square root of two, knowing the first couple of decimals comes in very handy. But even if you don't, there are sine tables, slide rules, calculators and computers.

    • by kwoff ( 516741 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @10:24AM (#51628517)
      Meanwhile, apparently the number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged [theatlantic.com]... Not to mention, considering algebra and trigonometry "advanced" is just ludicrous.
  • by VAXcat ( 674775 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:18AM (#51628039)
    Speaking as Lazarus Long "Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear shoes, bathe, and not make messes in the house."
    • by stanjo74 ( 922718 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @11:14AM (#51628897)
      Where are those mathematicians who wear shoes, bathe and keep a tidy house? This hasn't been my observation.
  • by jbmartin6 ( 1232050 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:18AM (#51628041)
    It only works if one assumes that this level of school is merely job training. Some could argue that education is about broadening knowledge and exercising the brain, not just 'how am I going to use this in real life?'
    • School is both and anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

      The problem is knowing when it changes. You initial schooling is gets you the broad range of knowledge and expands your mind so you can hopefully function better in society no matter what you do. At some point in time, school stops being about broadening your mind and becomes job training.

      So you have to know what school is being used for and when. Sometime in the high school time frame it when it starts transitioning into job training

  • by NReitzel ( 77941 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:18AM (#51628043) Homepage

    Nobody needs algebra. There are plenty of jobs at McDonald's and algebra is just a waste.

  • "We are really destroying a tremendous amount of talentâ"people who could be talented in sports writing or being an emergency medical technician, but can't even get a community college degree," says Hacker. "I regard this math requirement as highly irrational."

    I would prefer EMTs to be able to think mathematically, and be able to extrapolate in the head whether it's safe to administer emergency medication based on prior intake, or whether emergency evacuation is needed, or a boatload of other stuff that depends on understanding maths beyond adding numbers.

    Sports writing? Similar. You should at least be familiar with statistics, and how asymptotes work. But I'm not as fired up about those being math-stupid as an EMT being so.

  • by The Evil Atheist ( 2484676 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:19AM (#51628049) Homepage
    The only reason why maths is hard is adults keep telling children that it's hard.
    • by Gazzonyx ( 982402 ) <scott.lovenberg@ ... com minus distro> on Thursday March 03, 2016 @10:32AM (#51628587)
      Indeed; after I dropped out of college I worked full time where I did my internship during college. One day I had a geometry problem that I was writing code for and I couldn't recall too much from my last geometry course but I still had the book. I was at the office most of that night tearing through the book and it hit me like a ton of bricks; math is really a lot of fun! I've been meaning to email my high school geometry instructor to tell her about the event since I was probably her worst student and she'd get a thrill out of the story.

      I guess like one of the central themes of Tom Sawyer, if you are told something is hard work, it will be. Conversely, if you're told it's fun, that also rings true. For instance, most games these days are endless grinds sold as fun and we pay for the novelty of getting another chore in life. I actually hate most games until I buckle down and try to make the grind fun. What in the world is wrong with me?
    • The only reason Math is hard is because if you don't grasp the early concepts, you'll be forever lost in the advanced ones.

      If you want the kiddos to do well in Math, you need to make sure they understand the basics early on. Put the effort it early, and the rest will fall into place
      much more easily.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:19AM (#51628051)
    ... let's remove history and literature classes as well. As an Engineer, I found those humanities-oriented subjects to be too difficult to master and I have no use for them in my engineering career now.

    .
    Why even bother having school at all. It would be a lot easier to just play throughout your childhood.

  • by khakipuce ( 625944 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:19AM (#51628053) Homepage Journal

    Apart from algebra being an intellectual hurdle to be jumped which may help separate people academically I have thought this for about the last 30 years, and no I didn't "flunk" maths. As a matter of course we don't teach people medicine or geology or Latin, these are specialisms which people with an interest study as they refine their possible future choices. So why algebra? I am an engineer in an advanced engineering company writing engineering software and I "do maths" about once a year at most. Yes there are people here who do a lot more than me but there are also people who do a lot less so why does the average Joe need to know about quadratic equations?

    The suggestion to study statistics seems very sensible, it might help people understand when the politicians are lying...

  • by VAXcat ( 674775 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:20AM (#51628061)
    I picture Justin Long playing the doctor from the movie "Idiocracy"....
  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:21AM (#51628071) Homepage
    disclosure: Im a systems engineer, and have never had trouble with basic algebra.

    in the US at least, we seem to have this fever-dream mentality when it comes to education and employment. Namely, that we presume so long as everyone can "code" and learn maths, that they can one day successfully achieve gainful employment and become a productive member of the workforce to lead a meaningful life. We assume little johnny needs to code because thats what his employers want, but it couldnt be further from the truth. Most businesses want a few engineers, but they dont want to spend a lot of money on them. They want the nuts-and-bolts sorted out so that reproduceability obsoletes them and permits them to hire cheaper workers because truthfully business is a job-creator as a last resort.

    the issue we need to sort out as a nation is how we value work in general, whichs seems to have gone off the rails since the early nineties and NAFTA/CAFTA. Cooks, carpenters, welders, EMT's, and auto mechanics are all incredibly important --and in some cases in high demand -- professions for people to consider. However the pay and hours in these fields is a form of misery not seen since the old testament. You cant raise a family on any of these careers, and for some of them retirement isnt really an option. we use education as a whipping stick for these careers to insist theyre worth "less" than they really are, or at least so we can justify it to ourselves. If you want to see this self-fulfilling prophecy of underemployment in the real world, just look at the trucking industry. Perpetually understaffed, underpaid long-haul tractor-trailer drivers that get no vacation, sick leave, or retirement fund yet are in such ridiculous demand that most trucking companies like Dart or Swift will pay the driver to finish their CDL education. The demand is so high, drivers with a good record can quit a job and be hired at another in the same day.

    So, If you want to obsolete maths like algebra, I propose we obsolete the puritanical tradition of shitting on trades that dont always rely on it. And while we're at it, lets take a sobering step back and realize that not everyone needs to code to lead a fulfilling life.
    • by swb ( 14022 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @10:17AM (#51628471)

      Very well said. There is a tremendous bias against jobs that involve working with your hands and far too many people are encouraged to "go to college" in order to obtain some apocryphal "white collar" career. I would say that a lot of the IT problems many companies have originate with this blue collar bias, with the belief that IT employees are somehow not quite white collar.

      I had a conversation with the maintenance supervisor at a client who told me about his son. In the top 10% of his class in high school, he told the school counselor he didn't want to go to college. The counselor requested a meeting with his dad and basically beat him up for not making him go to college (the kid ended up getting some kind of 2 year drafting education, and works for a kitchen equipment maker travelling to job sites to review kitchen construction plans to make sure the planned designs and installations will work -- the guy said he makes close to 100k).

      As far as I can tell, all the "go to college" rhetoric has done is build college administration empires, make oodles of money for the student loan industry and probably dumb down traditional academic courses that vocationally-minded students have no interest in.

      And what's the end game, exactly? $100k in a debt so you can make coffee? We've flooded the market with half-educated college graduates aspiring to a mythical middle class lifestyle that's becoming increasingly unobtainable even by well educated graduates.

      One thing that kind of counts against a lot of skilled trades is the abysmal, old-school hostile management-labor relationship. I worked closely with journeyman electricians as my last job and while the benefits they had seemed great, the work environment seemed really unpleasant. Draconian, authoritarian management schemes, forced overtime and work rules that make a $20k a year cubical job seem pleasant.

  • by ugen ( 93902 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:22AM (#51628073)

    Idiocracy was not meant to be a documentary, nor a roadmap for the future.

  • by lorinc ( 2470890 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:24AM (#51628085) Homepage Journal

    You don't solve a problem by simply ignoring the results or breaking the measuring tool.

    Basic algebra, trigonometry and calculus are not difficult. If the students can't handle it, they are dumb, even if that doesn't please you. End of the story.

    They are dumb, and that's a problem. You're not going to solve the problem by bending reality and saying basic abstract maths are difficult and that they are not dumb. You are just ignoring the problem, which may (will) have unintended consequences in the future. Actually, if you want to solve the problem, you should invest more energy in the process that is failing. That could be more hours, less student per teacher, or researching a new pedagogy that makes the acquisition of such simple and fundamental concepts more successful. Or anything else that doesn't imply lowering the expected outcome.

    It has nothing to do with the jobs they will do in 30 years, simply because nobody can predict that. You are just promoting the race to the bottom.

    • by gstovall ( 22014 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @10:38AM (#51628623) Homepage

      Basic algebra, trigonometry and calculus are not difficult. If the students can't handle it, they are dumb, even if that doesn't please you. End of the story.

      Not difficult for YOU, you mean.

      I love math, and I always aced math classes. I LOVED differential equations in college. I tried to transfer my love of math and science to my children. Two children who are good at math, and they were valedictorians. Another is a high school English teacher. :) I have a fourth child who tested as gifted, but she has extreme difficulty with math at the level of Algebra I and beyond. She repeated Agebra I three times in high school; I finally had to get a variance from the state just so she could graduate. She has taken College Algebra three times and done poorly at it, despite tutoring. She does poorly at foreign languages, failing both Spanish and German. However, she does well in her other classes -- top of the class in other subjects.

      So, she's not dumb, but she has some kind of learning disability in math and language. Perhaps some kind of a trade school that specializes in her talents would have been a better option -- but the career she is shooting for demands a college degree, so she perseveres.

    • Basic algebra, trigonometry and calculus are not difficult. If the students can't handle it, they are dumb, even if that doesn't please you. End of the story

      Depends on how bad the teaching is.

      I used to think like you. Then I agreed to tutor a friend's kid as a favour (I was staying as a guest at her house for over 2 weeks). The kid was not dumb, but not clearly one of the mathematically gifted sorts who just figures out the system (no matter how badly it's explained), so in other words, normal.

      The quality o

  • by m00sh ( 2538182 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:27AM (#51628103)

    advanced mathematics requirements, like algebra, trigonometry and calculus

    That is not advanced mathematics.

    That is just about basic mathematics.

    However, the curriculum needs to be revised with modern tools. Computer algebra systems makes a lot of what is taught in these courses obsolete. Courses that use CAS then start pulling in advanced content to fill up the time.

    This is analogous to what the calculator did. Nobody knows how to even calculate a square root by hand (ok a few people) and nobody does long division. There are so many things in math classes that simply need to just go away like long division.

  • May need a calculus workaround for this. http://mathworld.wolfram.com/C... [wolfram.com]
  • I do EE work and barely touch algebra.

  • Algebra is easy.. it's all about getting X alone in the corner, so you can find his value. Geometry should go, along with the foreign language requirement.

  • by mdsolar ( 1045926 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:48AM (#51628241) Homepage Journal
    There is a reason we expose young people to intellectual pusuits rather than just putting them where they'd be useful like in diamond mines or in chimney sweep jobs. There brains are particularly plastic and need stimulation to develop. Math is among the pursuits they need for their intellectual health. Leaving it out would be like leaving running out of physical development.
  • by Dcnjoe60 ( 682885 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:50AM (#51628253)

    Maybe the problem is with how it is taught? Back in the day, high school math teachers tended to have a degree in mathematics (and biology in biology and chemistry in chemistry, etc.). Then in the 1970s this notion of certifying teachers came into being. With certification you were taught many things, like classroom management, child psychology, etc., but no longer was being a math or science teacher based on a demonstrated knowledge of the subject matter.

    For anecdotal evidence, I had an excellent organic chemistry teacher in high school. When my state passed new teacher certification rules, she was grandfathered in (or would that be grandmothered?). She often quipped that since she didn't have a certificate, it made no sense that she could teach us as freshman in college, but not seniors in high school. BTW, she finished her dissertation the year after I graduated and continued teaching in high school, without a certificate for an additional 20 years.

    Anecdote #2. I have a very good friend who is now a retired teacher. Math was her worst subject. However, the school system needed somebody to teach junior high math and she had a teaching certificate, so that is what she was hired to do. She would often say how grateful she was for the instructor's guide for the lesson plans, because without it she would be lost.

    In short, if you want kids to learn math and science, they need teachers that know math and science. My wife is a teacher, so I type this with some trepidation, but maybe instead of dumbing down the subject matter taught to students, we should quit dumbing down the requirements to teach them in the first place. If you want kids to learn, then need teachers who have mastered the subject matter.

  • by bradley13 ( 1118935 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @09:53AM (#51628273) Homepage

    I was going to use my mod points, but there are too many good comments (and plenty of modders anyway).

    However, one point no one seems to have made yet: TFA seems to worry that, without Alg2, you won't get a college degree, and the world will be denied the next talented sports writer or EMT.

    To me, a better question is: Why in the world would you expect a sports writer or an EMT to have a college degree? Those are both fields that require a certain amount of training, but a college degree seems to be the wrong kind. What is it with the US (this is very US oriented), that everyone is expected to go to college? The simple fact is that most people don't (or shouldn't) need a college degree for their careers. And by forcing everyone to go, you only water down the contents of a college education, so that everyone can pass.

    Also: I agree with the Ms. Goldstein's husband: you require high school students to do math for the same reason you require them to read Shakespeare. High school is a generalist education that should expose students to an essential broad cross section of academic and cultural studies.

    Finally, Ms. Goldstein hits on a key problem with math education in the USA: "American teachers, especially those in the elementary grades, have taken few math courses themselves, and often actively dislike the subject." Might just make it hard to learn...

  • by Script Cat ( 832717 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @10:32AM (#51628583)

    f(x)=ae^-( ((x-b)^2) / 2c^2)

  • by Gim Tom ( 716904 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @11:29AM (#51629031)
    The Language God Talks -- Richard Feynman

    A quote from the book with the same name, both in print and in audio, by Herman Wouk about his conversations with Feynman while doing research for his two volume magnum opus on WWII. According to Feynman the language is Calculus
  • "But it's not easy to see why potential poets and philosophers face a lofty mathematics bar. "

    I was a Philosophy major in college and I did Calculus... I do agree that I hardly use more than basic algebra. Perhaps a real life math class and statistics are more useful. I find doing stuff like figuring out a mortgage and 'how long will it take me to pay off my credit card' is pretty useful.

  • by ooloorie ( 4394035 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @01:07PM (#51629833)
    It's not really clear what Hacker wants. High schools generally don't require algebra 2 or calculus AFAIK. You can go through high school without them, and then take some blue collar job or go to vocational school. Colleges, too, decide what their admission requirements are. Many colleges tend to prefer students with algebra and calculus, but that's usually not a strict requirement, and in any case, it's a decision of individual schools, not a "mandate".

    In any case, by definition, competitive colleges have "barriers" to entry, and requiring all their students to know basic math and science (and that's what algebra and calculus are) is a reasonable barrier for them to have. If anything, colleges should be requiring more science and math literacy, not less.

  • by ThatsNotPudding ( 1045640 ) on Thursday March 03, 2016 @02:15PM (#51630431)
    If we were really looking out for the next generation, we would be teaching them all Post-Apocalyptic Maths, along with how to knap flint and distill alcohol for fuel.



    Because 99% of them are fucked already.

What this country needs is a good five cent microcomputer.

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