Monday, July 30, 2012

Is Algebra Necessary? Only If We Want Our Education System to Produce Kids in A League of Their Own

The New York Times Sunday Review had a bizarre editorial on the value or should I say, lack of value of teaching Algebra as a mandatory subject to Secondary School (High School) students. The article can be found at
and is written by Andrew Hacker, who is described by The Times as follows: Andrew Hacker is an emeritus professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York, and a co-author of “Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — and What We Can Do About It.”
As someone whose almost entire working career has been spent utilizing least squares approximations, first as a scientist, predicting the behaviour of anti-ferro magnetic materials in outer space conditions, then as a computer guy developing consumer predictive behavioural buying models for retailers, I am shocked. It appears to me that Mr. Hacker's logic is that if so many people can't do it, it is just a set up for failure, and the last thing that the Americans can afford is more High School drop outs. So, remove it from the curriculum. Or, as they say in algebraic terms, If Math+ Reading+Writing=Diploma, but no one can do Math, change the formula to Reading+Writing=Diploma. 
I don't get it. And, I thought the purpose of education was to educate, even though it might sometimes be hard.
And, to back me up, here's one of my favourite exchanges from A League of Their Own:
Jimmy Dugan: Taking a little day trip? 
Dottie Hinson: No, Bob and I are driving home. To Oregon. 
Jimmy Dugan: [long pause] You know, I really thought you were a ballplayer. 
Dottie Hinson: Well, you were wrong. 
Jimmy Dugan: Was I? 
Dottie Hinson: Yeah. It is only a game, Jimmy. It's only a game, and, and, I don't need this. I have Bob; I don't need this. At all. 
Jimmy Dugan: I, I gave away five years at the end my career to drink. Five years. And now there isn't anything I wouldn't give to get back any one day of it. 
Dottie Hinson: Well, we're different. 
Jimmy Dugan: Shit, Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I'm in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you'll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It's what lights you up, you can't deny that. 
Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard. 
Jimmy Dugan: It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard... is what makes it great. 
And, just for fun, here's the trailer:

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