EdTech 537: Discussion ~ Is Algebra Necessary?

Is Algebra Necessary?

The truth is that you really do not “need” algebra unless you plan to teach it or use it in a scientific profession.  According to an opinion piece by Andrew Hacker in the New York Times,

A TYPICAL American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal?

Reasoning mathematically is a nice skill but one that is not relevant to most of life. We reason about many things: parenting, marriage, careers, finances, business, politics. Do we learn how to reason about these things by learning algebra?

Mike McClenathan of  Forbes takes the counter point and asks is “anything” necessary?

It’s true that most people don’t use algebra (or geometry, or calculus) in their day-to-day professional lives. But most don’t use chemistry, or physics, or European history every day either. Very few jobs require a familiarity with great works of literature. I would argue that, if basic communication skills are set aside, many jobs require none of the skills we force students to learn in high school. So why pick on algebra? Is anything taught in school really necessary?

I will be totally honest, if I didn’t teach math I would never use, imaginary numbers, Pi, Euler’s Constant, the Golden Ration, imaginary units, or the perfect squares. Wait!  That’s everything except the Number 1 from my list of favorite numbers!  So is there really a value to what I do (besides paying the bills)?

Which side are you on?  Is Algebra (math) necessary?


About kimberlyhefty

Hello. My name is Kimberly Hefty and I live in Sammamish, Washington. For the past 23 years I have taught high school and college level mathematics. 13 years ago I started a private tutoring business. I specialize in working with public high school students who are taking math courses "on-line". I work closely with both the students and the local school district. I typically work with 40-50 students per week. I also have 2 children ages 14 and 23. My daughter just graduated from Elon University in North Carolina. My son plays competitive golf and premiere soccer so most of my weekends are spent at either soccer or golf tournaments. I am excited to be completing the Master's In Educational Technology Program from BSU (M.E.T.) Spring 2015! Through this program I have gained a better understanding of educational technology and it’s applications. I believe that the knowledge that I have gained will be beneficial personally, as well as to my students. With these skills that I have learned in the Educational Technology program, I hope to help myself and my students be successful in future endeavors. The M.E.T. program has allowed me to create an environment for all of us, my students along with myself, to gain skills for education, employment, and existence.
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5 Responses to EdTech 537: Discussion ~ Is Algebra Necessary?

  1. Kaelyn Bullock says:

    I am not a math person at all, but I do think Algebra is necessary. I teach history and I know that many of the things they learn will be forgotten one day. But the problem-solving, collaboration, and communication that take place when learning these subjects are very important. I also hope that exposure to these subject areas will help them to realize areas where they are gifted and give them a strong foundation from which to build many other skills.

    • Hi Kaelyn,
      I agree that the problem solving and collaborative skills they use in mathematics (and many other subjects) will benefit them throughout their education and career.
      According to the NCTM, http://www.nctm.org/about/content.aspx?id=40258

      “Algebra has often been referred to as a “gatekeeper” to higher learning—both in mathematics and in other fields. Research shows that students who complete a mathematics course beyond the level of algebra 2 are more than twice as likely to pursue and complete a postsecondary degree. Students who don’t do well in algebra compromise their career options, especially in STEM fields. The question is no longer if students should take algebra but rather when students should take algebra. “

  2. Algebra was actually my favorite math subject in high school. I agree that we need to experience these content areas and concepts to increase our problem solving, but perhaps we are subjecting millions to unnecessary content. I think we then have to figure out a curriculum that allows students to build these skills but also make them competitive in the job market that now exists. Math taught me a great deal of procedural and principle learning but do I use it now – most likely not. I could explain Pi to you, but that is the end of that. Perhaps we could focusing on stocks, savings, and investments as a class that translates skills into real-world application. Interesting question!

    • I agree that more practical math skills should also be taught in school such as savings, stocks, investments etc.
      I think it’s interesting to consider how much we learn in high school is actually applied to “real life”. I have never once been asked to balance a chemical equation, quote Shakespeare, or name the generals in the War of 1812. So did I really ever need to learn them?

  3. Pingback: EdTech 537: Guest Blog | Kimberly Hefty: EDTECH Learning Log

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