Friday, March 03, 2006

I can't believe I'm defending algebra, but I kind of am

As much as I have a well-documented hatred of bugs, I also have a well-documented hatred of math. I did a passable job at it in high school (because I worked hard at it), but I really never got algebra. I did sort of get geometry, but not algebra (I personally think you're either an algebra person or a geometry person), and certainly not calculus (which I got a C on first semester and failed second semester). What the hell is going on with calculus, I have no idea. And I certainly couldn't tell you if I ever required calculus skills in my daily life, because I have no idea what calculus even has to do with anymore.

Like me, my friend Karl has the tendency to 'not suffer fools gladly', but he rants even more than I do. Like, exponentially more (ooh! is that algebra-related? I think so!!). Some of my blog readers surfed over here from Karl's blog, so you already know him. But for those of you who don't, he's a biostatistics professor. So he likes the math. He insists that statistics is not math, but I still don't believe this, owing to its use of numbers and mathy symbols.

He has a post up on his blog today about a recent editorial in the Washington Post (which you can read here), in which the author discusses the uselessness of requiring algebra for high school students. His basic point, as far as I can tell, is that algebra is useless in your life, and students who just don't get it can get frustrated and just drop out of high school entirely, as did his example: a girl named Gabriela.

I totally can't even believe this article, as it seems to suggest to me that we should just eliminate the requirement for any "hard" classes in high school, just so the students don't get frustrated. I quote: " The LA school district now requires all students to pass a year of algebra and a year of geometry in order to graduate. This is something new for LA (although 17 states require it) and it is the sort of vaunted education reform that is suppossed to close the science and mat gap and make the US more competitive. All it seems to do, though, is ruin the lives of countless kids. In LA, more kids drop out of school on account of algebra than any other subject. I can hardly blame them."

How incredibly ridiculous is that? I hate algebra too, but this really seems to send the message that students really shouldn't have to challenge themselves. No one is saying you're going to need algebra in particular to survive in life, but what you DO need is the ability to face these kinds of challenges. I had to study way more for algebra than anything else. I had to get a tutor for calculus, just so I could pass it (because 2 semesters of it were required of anyone getting any degree at my college). It was hard, and I was miserable, but you don't just get to give up because something is hard. You're going to face many challenges in your life that aren't math-related, and you're not just going to be able to skip them because you don't know how to deal with them. You may as well learn that in high school.


Special K said...

I challenged myself plenty in high school WITHOUT any algebra...they were called beer bongs!!!!!!!woohoo!

peppersnaps said...

Here, here! I totally agree. I think dumbing down curriculums is the worst way to deal with kids dropping out. Great, so now we have more high school graduates, but what would that even mean anymore? And I hear ya about algebra not really being necessary knowledge for regular life (although I onced used trigonometry to figure out whether I could move a piano into a room -- and I couldn't, so it saved my back) but yes, what's the point of designing classes to be EASY so kids won't get frustrated? Seems more important to me to design them to be INTERESTING and whenever possible, relevant to daily life. OK, I'll stop now. :)

patientgrl said...

I agree! I think algebra teaches you to think in a different way, and those kids in LA should have to take it. Well, unless they're all going to be movie stars. Then all they have to learn is how to dogde the paparazzi when their boobs fall out.

Keith said...

I don't care about all your edjumacation and high falutin degrees! I say dump algebra.