VIA the NYTimes: “Is Algebra Necessary?” by Andrew HackerPosted: July 29, 2012
I can’t say that I agree with Hacker’s position, that freshman algebra courses serve more of a gate-keeping than a preparatory function for high school and college students. (The analogy might be to the Latin-based instruction in the classics, which was once seen as the primary purpose of secondary education)
Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent. In the interest of maintaining rigor, we’re actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources.
Part of the reason for my disquiet is the concern I voiced the other day about our excessively short-term focus in our definitions of “use” and “usefulness.” But I think that we have reached a point where either significant educational resources (time, teachers, coursework, practice) will have to be poured into this kind of instruction, or some kind of alternative developed. So I think it worthwhile, even for advocates of freshman algebra instruction, to articulate a convincing account of how it helps students in and beyond school.