Do We Need Algebra?

Posted by | July 30, 2012 19:47 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

Everyone who has struggled through high school algebra has muttered to themselves, “Why do I need to learn this crap?”  Well, Andrew Hacker asked the same question (as has Richard Cohen):

The toll mathematics takes begins early. To our nation’s shame, one in four ninth graders fail to finish high school. In South Carolina, 34 percent fell away in 2008-9, according to national data released last year; for Nevada, it was 45 percent. Most of the educators I’ve talked with cite algebra as the major academic reason.

Hacker recommends eliminating algebra from required high school curricula.  This infuriates me for several reasons.  First of all, students struggle to do all sorts of things including writing in complete sentences.  Should we eliminate everything that is hard?  Second, I do think algebra, and math in general, helps with thinking.  Finally, and most importantly, eliminating algebra as required will mean that only kids whose parents know better will take algebra.  And careers such as doctors, engineers, and even public policy professors will be off limits to the rest.  In an age of growing inequality, we don’t want to set up two education systems, with only the one used by the fortunate half to lead to more lucrative careers.

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Copyright 2012 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.

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