Do We Need Algebra?
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.