Who needs algebra? — A follow-up

Lucy Brownstein, a high-school student from Brooklyn, wrote a fine response to Andrew Hacker (see my post of February 7). You noticed that I didn’t say something like “a fine response for a high-schooler.” It’s a fine response, period. But still, it’s especially good to see a teenager’s view of the subject. Here’s what she wrote in her letter, published in today’s New York Times:

In “Who Needs Math? Not Everybody” (Education Life, Feb. 7), Andrew Hacker, who teaches quantitative reasoning at Queens College, says that since only 5 percent of people use algebra and/or geometry in their jobs, students don’t need to learn these subjects.

As a high school student, I strongly disagree.

The point of learning is to understand the world. If the only point of learning is job preparation, why should students learn history, or read Shakespeare?

And while your job may never require you to know the difference between a postulate and a theorem, it will almost certainly require other math-based skills, like how to prove something or how to understand a graph. If nothing else, people need math to understand finance, which is a part of everyone’s life.

I also disagree with the logic that if people are failing algebra, then they shouldn’t take algebra. If people approach life that way, they will get nowhere.

Algebra and geometry have a place in the classroom. If students are failing, then the way math is taught may need to change. But what is taught needs no alteration.

Clearly Lucy is wise beyond her years.

Categories: Math, Teaching & Learning