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Political Science Prof Asks: Is Algebra Necessary?

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the no-math-for-you dept.

Education 1010

Capt.Albatross writes "Andrew Hacker, a professor of Political Science at the City University of New York and author of Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — and What We Can Do About It, attempts to answer this question in the negative in today's New York Times Sunday Review. His primary claim is that mathematics requirements are prematurely and unreasonably limiting the level of education available to otherwise capable students ."

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1010 comments

yes (5, Insightful)

yagu (721525) | about 2 years ago | (#40810515)

Yes!

substitute in his thesis,

Algebra is an onerous stumbling block for all kinds of students: disadvantaged and affluent, black and white.

and substitute to:

History is an onerous stumbling block for all kinds of students: disadvantaged and affluent, black and white.

and you have a perfect argument for me and the school system not requiring History.

Even better,

$yourWorstSubject is an onerous stumbling block for all kinds of students: disadvantaged and affluent, black and white.

and we've eliminated the need for any required subjects.

"I am not good at", or "I don't want to" are not good arguments for not requiring learnin'.

(-e**(i*pi) st post)

Re:yes (5, Insightful)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about 2 years ago | (#40810733)

Mathematics is a tool, but it's not a tool everyone uses to its fullest extent. In my high school, we teach all the way up to Calculus 2, and what percentage of the population actually uses that kind of mathematics? My Uncle, and cousins run a very successful business with revenue in the hundreds of millions of dollars. My cousin is dyslexic and has terrible trouble reading and doing mathematics, but he's sitting pretty on a pile of cash and he's great at his job. Would he be better at his job if he knew how to integrate? Maybe.... but it's not necessary for him, which is what the article is asking.

So by counterexample it's apparent not all mathematics is necessary for everyone... so I think these blanket answers I'm seeing floated around here by people who probably rely on mathematics daily for their jobs is a little short sighted.

Re:yes (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810875)

Mathematics is the language used to describe how the world around you works. At the very least you should understand the concepts of exponential growth and decay (which I think is algebra 2). Most people are going to have credit cards, 401ks, mortgages, car loans, etc. Knowing how these things work is the first step to financial success. I went through differential equations in college and honestly I can't recite off-hand the formulas for those things but I do understand how it works and could look up and calculate loan totals payoffs, monthly payments, etc.

Re:yes (5, Insightful)

larry bagina (561269) | about 2 years ago | (#40810889)

All mathematics? No. But math (including algebra) isn't just making sure you give the correct change in your menial fast-food cashier job, it's problem solving. And that doesn't exist (certainly not to the same degree) in other subjects.

Re:yes (5, Insightful)

Yvanhoe (564877) | about 2 years ago | (#40810901)

Anyone not understanding what an exponential is does not have a good enough understanding of demographics to make a fully informed decision about making babies and should not be authorized to take a loan.

Re:yes (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810919)

I can understand asking this question about Calculus, but Algebra? We use algebra every day. At the grocery store, gas station, etc. I regularly ask my little nephews (five and eight) to answer elementary algebra word problems.

"Your uncle's motorcycle has a 5 gallon gas tank and tops it off with 3 gallons..." Or stuff like, "You bought ten Silly Bands for [whatever] dollars... how much did you pay for each one?"

Re:yes (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810771)

Or, really, college degrees are onerous stumbling blocks for all kinds of people. I don't have one and I have my own business and make $30-40k per month. Education should focus more on teaching critical thinking skills and at least one trade. Most people would probably find they don't need post-secondary education to make a comfortable wage in an occupation they enjoy, and those that do go on will likely perform better and get more out of it because they are using the school as a means to an important personal end instead of means to a guarantee or even an end itself (anyone not knowing what to major in falls in the latter category).

Re:yes (1)

Guy Harris (3803) | about 2 years ago | (#40810873)

Yes!

substitute in his thesis,

Algebra is an onerous stumbling block for all kinds of students: disadvantaged and affluent, black and white.

and substitute to:

History is an onerous stumbling block for all kinds of students: disadvantaged and affluent, black and white.

...and you have something that's arguably a category error. "Algebra" is a particular part of the discipline of mathematics; "history" is the entire discipline of, well, history.

Now, to be fair, his essay switches back and forth between speaking of particular parts of mathematics and of mathematics as a whole, but it sounds as if he's not arguing "math class is hard, let's go shopping!", he's arguing that, whilst "quantitative literacy clearly is useful in weighing all manner of public policies", requiring people to "master polynomial functions and parametric equations" in order to attend college might not improve quantitative literacy sufficiently to justify preventing students who have difficulty mastering them from taking other college courses that might not require those skills and that might increase their knowledge base and critical thinking skills.

Re:yes (0, Troll)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 2 years ago | (#40810917)

History is an onerous stumbling block for all kinds of students: disadvantaged and affluent, black and white.

and you have a perfect argument for me and the school system not requiring History.

No you don't. A basic understanding of our shared history is important for the proper functioning of a democratic society. An understanding of math beyond what is needed to balance a checkbook (or national budget) is not. 90% of us never use algebra, even once, after leaving school. It is basically pointless for non-techies.

False comparison (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810929)

The piece specifcially suggests higher math requirements are a problem. It does not suggest math is a problem. Therefore you should have RTFA before you made your dumbass remark.

Mathematics is a tool (5, Insightful)

GodGell (897123) | about 2 years ago | (#40810535)

NO.

It's the unintuitive ways in which it's taught (which in turn causes the societal alienation of the subject) that is the problem, not the fact that it's a requirement.

Mathematics is nothing less than the upmost tool of rationality. Lose it, and all progress decays.

Re:Mathematics is a tool (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810621)

"Upmost"?
How about "utmost"?
Did your school do away with that pesky English course that was keeping nerds from reaching their full potentials?

Re:Mathematics is a tool (5, Interesting)

GodGell (897123) | about 2 years ago | (#40810655)

You are right, I made a mistake, my bad. I never took an English course. I never needed to, an online dictionary and some persistence taught me enough English to communicate on the level required. I've never been to an English-speaking country so far.

How many languages do you speak fluently?

Re:Mathematics is a tool (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810731)

If you're using a modern browser, the little red line under the word is a good hint to look it up. Usually just typing something into an English-speaking version of Google is adequate to find the right spelling.

Re:Mathematics is a tool (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810735)

Depends. Do you count Klingon?

Re:Mathematics is a tool (2)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#40810765)

GodGell (897123) made a pretty convincing display of how mathematics has to be taught (classes mostly suck, books mostly suck, online mostly sucks, turns out there is no royal road to geometry even after centuries...) but we don't really "need" language classes because immersion works well enough for everyone but the grammar fascists. Therefore I think "we" need algebra class a lot more than "we" need english lit.

remember Heinlein's assessment? (4, Insightful)

harvey the nerd (582806) | about 2 years ago | (#40810753)

"Anyone who cannot cope with mathematics is not fully human. At best he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear shoes, bathe and not make messes in the house."

Re:remember Heinlein's assessment? (0)

Tough Love (215404) | about 2 years ago | (#40810775)

bathe?

Re:Mathematics is a tool (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 2 years ago | (#40810807)

Mathematics is nothing less than the upmost tool of rationality. Lose it, and all progress decays.

Depending on what you call mathematics, I'd argue that formal logic is closer to the essence of rationality. (Although if you consider mathematics as reasoning about any system with mathematical structure, and consider logical formalisms to have mathematical structure, then I guess the argument goes the other way around and I'd agree with whole-heartedly.)

Re:Mathematics is a tool (4, Informative)

Guy Harris (3803) | about 2 years ago | (#40810909)

NO.

It's the unintuitive ways in which it's taught (which in turn causes the societal alienation of the subject) that is the problem, not the fact that it's a requirement.

Mathematics is nothing less than the upmost tool of rationality. Lose it, and all progress decays.

Yeah. Somebody should point Prof. Hacker to this essay [nytimes.com] , in which the writer states that

Peter Braunfeld of the University of Illinois tells his students, “Our civilization would collapse without mathematics.” He’s absolutely right.

Algebraic algorithms underpin animated movies, investment strategies and airline ticket prices. And we need people to understand how those things work and to advance our frontiers.

Quantitative literacy clearly is useful in weighing all manner of public policies, from the Affordable Care Act, to the costs and benefits of environmental regulation, to the impact of climate change. Being able to detect and identify ideology at work behind the numbers is of obvious use. Ours is fast becoming a statistical age, which raises the bar for informed citizenship.

Perhaps if he were to read that, he'd change his mind. :-)

(Shorter me: "You did RTFA, right? If not, please do so before ascribing to Prof. Hacker opinions he does not hold.")

That's A Convenient Theory (5, Insightful)

Revotron (1115029) | about 2 years ago | (#40810545)

I'm pretty sure if I wrote that paper, the resulting Slashdot headline would be "Engineer Asks: Is Political Science Necessary?"

Re:That's A Convenient Theory (2)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | about 2 years ago | (#40810603)

It's more likely that the engineer will one day make the political scientist obsolete than the other way around, but until that day comes, we have to suffer with them.

Re:That's A Convenient Theory (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810607)

Please, the Slashdot heading would be closer to "OMG PONIES" because such a logical topic would not incite a flame war and therefore not make it to /.'s mainpage.

Re:That's A Convenient Theory (4, Insightful)

lexsird (1208192) | about 2 years ago | (#40810631)

Political Science is an oxymoron, and insult to the term science. It should be Political Skullduggery, or something to match the true ilk of it, being an observation of the human nature at its finest and worst at the same time.

Re:That's A Convenient Theory (1)

Door-opening Fascist (534466) | about 2 years ago | (#40810777)

There are many of the social "sciences" that don't live up to the name. That doesn't mean all of them fall into that boat, or that all practitioners of the social "scienes" are not actually scientists, but anyone who approaches their field without placing the scientific method front and center doesn't deserve to be called a scientist.

Re:That's A Convenient Theory (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#40810641)

The Engineer would have to ask: Is politics a science?

Re:That's A Convenient Theory (1)

gweihir (88907) | about 2 years ago | (#40810743)

No. The engineer knows that it is not and that its practitioners are merely organized con-artists.

Re:That's A Convenient Theory (1)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | about 2 years ago | (#40810895)

And then, disillusioned, the engineer turns his thoughts to other things [ox.ac.uk] .

When Bernard Haykel asked the engineers and scientists among the numerous fundamentalist Islamists he interviewed what it was about Salafi thought that appealed to them, they pointed to its intellectually clean, unambiguous and all- encompassing nature (personal communication, September 2007).

Re:That's A Convenient Theory (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810653)

History teaches us to want our own wars when it's our turn.

This guy is an idiot (5, Insightful)

zero.kalvin (1231372) | about 2 years ago | (#40810559)

The point is not learning how to do complex calculation, the point is by learning these mathematical subjects you develop certain skills in logic, problem solving , and in critical thinking. It goes beyond mathematics and to how to be a rational thinker ( and yes I am exaggerating a bit ).

Re:This guy is an idiot (4, Funny)

Revotron (1115029) | about 2 years ago | (#40810575)

I'd be wary bringing up the notion of "rational thought" in the presence of a PolySci professor. I hear they find that idea quite revolting.

Re:This guy is an idiot (1)

Kergan (780543) | about 2 years ago | (#40810717)

I'd be wary bringing up the notion of "rational thought" in the presence of a PolySci professor. I hear they find that idea quite revolting.

Of course they do... Most of them are completely incapable of logical reasoning. Much like in all social science fields, they compensate by hiding behind key thinkers in their discipline -- almost all of which, dare I add, were trained mathematicians or physicists.

Re:This guy is an idiot (1)

Pezbian (1641885) | about 2 years ago | (#40810907)

Of course they do... Most of them are completely incapable of logical reasoning. Much like in all social science fields, they compensate by hiding behind key thinkers in their discipline -- almost all of which, dare I add, were trained mathematicians or physicists.

And that... would be the joke.

Re:This guy is an idiot (2)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 2 years ago | (#40810749)

And if nothing else, you learn that some things are hard and the people who work to master them are worthy of respect. Except this guy seems to have missed all of those lessons. Maybe he somehow dodged out of required math?

Re:This guy is an idiot (2)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about 2 years ago | (#40810801)

There are other ways to teach problem solving, logic, and critical thinking that don't include mathematics. Math can be a very abstract concept, and while it's embedded in most everything, the concepts are abstracted in a way that makes sense to people even if they don't realize they're learning calculus or factorization. The author of the article is asking if teaching raw math is really necessary, as most people get so frustrated with it they just give up entirely.

Critical thinking, logic, and problem solving exist in almost every subject. Literature, art, psychology, history, engineering, biology, physics all have avenues to the aforementioned thinking skills, and each is a different level removed from raw theoretical mathematics. Perhaps we need to consider if math is really necessary to achieve these skills?

Re:This guy is an idiot (2)

am 2k (217885) | about 2 years ago | (#40810845)

The point is not learning how to do complex calculation, the point is by learning these mathematical subjects you develop certain skills in logic, problem solving , and in critical thinking.

I don't know where you're from, but here none of this is taught in the subject that's declared as being "Mathematics" in school. What we learn here is akin to a cooking course where you learn to cook instant meals.

Re:This guy is an idiot (1)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 2 years ago | (#40810877)

I'm not sure that's really true. If you look at how introductory calculus, algebra, and arithmetic are often (I think) taught, it's more about algorithm memorization than careful reasoning.

Not that those subject need to be logic-free, but they mostly seem to be. I was done with school before No Child Left Behind was enacted, but I could imagine that exacerbating the problem.

Rome is Burning! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810565)

Yeah, Math is too hard for retards with polisci degrees (100% made-up Industrial Flimflam) so we should just get rid of it.

Lewis Carroll bemoaned the decline in Education in _his day_, which was when Mathematics students were freed from the obligation to read classics.

So, in order to keep the Degradation Train rolling, as if that mother stops, so does Society, let's do Carrol's day one better and remove mathematics. After all, mathematics convinces retarded people that they're not smart enough to get polisci degrees, or something like that.

If you're retarded and no good at math, have hope---just toady on up to a polisci prof, get that nose nice and brown and one day maybe you, too, can be a gutless hack teaching that math is unnecessary!

Unnecessary roughness on statistics (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810569)

The article's author should be penalized for pointing out the unemployment rates for hard sciences graduates with no comparison to the corresponding rates for liberal arts majors.

Re:Unnecessary roughness on statistics (1)

Revotron (1115029) | about 2 years ago | (#40810625)

I don't think that would help much - the reason being that a hard science graduate would rather stay unemployed than take a job at Starbucks. For a liberal arts major, that's practically a career path.

Re:Unnecessary roughness on statistics (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810649)

An engineer asks - how is that?

A physicist asks - why is that?

A polisci major asks - would you like fries with that?

Re:Unnecessary roughness on statistics (4, Funny)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 2 years ago | (#40810769)

Give the guy a break. He can't do algebra. That means he can't do statistics.

If you want to understand the world... (4, Insightful)

hxnwix (652290) | about 2 years ago | (#40810583)

If you want to understand the world, you need math. If your education doesn't include that, what sort of education is it?

Re:If you want to understand the world... (2)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | about 2 years ago | (#40810703)

How much math? And the world also includes laws, bankers, lawyers, notary publics, etc. Sure, we can teach l'Hopital's rule in high school, but can we also please teach the social realities that can have much more of an impact in everyday life than math?

Re:If you want to understand the world... (3, Insightful)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 2 years ago | (#40810813)

I certainly prefer my banker to know algebra, and so should the lawyer and notary. Social studies (history plus geography) was ALSO required when I was in school. And if you haven't noticed, studying and actually solving a lot of those "social realities" that have such a big impact in everyday life depends on statistics, which is... math.

Re:If you want to understand the world... (2)

tibit (1762298) | about 2 years ago | (#40810881)

Math is, to me, a core requirement for civics -- you know, being someone who can't be easily lied to by politicians who pull numbers out of their sleeves and pretend that everything can be solved with their fave solution du jour.

Re:If you want to understand the world... (3, Insightful)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about 2 years ago | (#40810871)

I think it's a bit presumptuous to claim those who do not know math are incapable of understanding the world. The level of mathematics taught in high school is the smallest shrivel of the scope of the mathematics field. You don't really start getting into the core of the subject until the graduate level. So are you saying anyone without a graduate level of education in mathematic is unable to understand the world? Or perhaps you think only a highschool level of educate is necessary to understand the world?

And how exactly do you define the world? The world is vast, and we can probably define and describe less than 1% of all we know with mathematical formulas. What about poets, artists, authors... do they not understand the world? I can't tell you the last time I read an equation that elicited more emotion than Whitman or Frost. So maybe it's apt to say those who do not understand love or nature or poetry or biology do not understand the world.

The real question is: (5, Insightful)

EnglishTim (9662) | about 2 years ago | (#40810591)

... is High School necessary?

Re:The real question is: (4, Funny)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#40810675)

Emo prof asks: Is anything necessary?

Re:The real question is: (2)

DoofusOfDeath (636671) | about 2 years ago | (#40810887)

Emo prof asks: Is anything necessary?

No, Emo prof cries, "Leave Algebra ALONE!!!!"

Re:The real question is: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810677)

I know why all the jobs are outsourced to asia. They actually believe in education!

Re:The real question is: (3, Funny)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#40810847)

... is High School necessary?

The high school reunion industrial complex, as one of the few remaining vibrant industries in America, so its been declared "too big to fail" so we can't get rid of H.S.

Interestingly the reunion industrial complex is failing due to facebook... Why do you need a retro-cover-band and a rented hall to find out whats new, when every one who cares about such things, already knows from facebook.

My learning almost completely stopped in H.S.... its curriculum moves too slow. Made a very painful impact when I suddenly had to start learning again at university. Whoa, I haven't studied since middle school, WTF? You mean I have to read the book now?

Re:The real question is: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810913)

... is our children learning?

Why anything (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810609)

Why not just take this one step further and just not have any requirements to get a degree/diploma. Why should I have to take English classes that teach rules of spelling, grammar, and sentence structure I'll never use in the real world? Why should I learn art or history? Why not just forgo gym? Why take biology or physics or chemistry or any science if I am not going to use it every day?

A more fitting question... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810613)

Is political science necessary?

Re:A more fitting question... (5, Funny)

NF6X (725054) | about 2 years ago | (#40810663)

Is political science necessary?

YES! If political science majors studied things like engineering or computer science instead, then who would sell me coffee?

This is why we can't have nice things... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810619)

... and why we make fun of the artsies. If you can't do basic math then you have no place in higher learning.

Don't really get the American system (4, Interesting)

nicolastheadept (930317) | about 2 years ago | (#40810639)

Perhaps it would be better to move away from graduation based on everything together, to passes in individual subjects? Allow pupils to excel in the areas they can.

Re:Don't really get the American system (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810831)

Well, the idea is that you are supposed to be getting a "well rounded" education.. which does kinda make sense.

If you _just_ want to be a programmer, or welder, or whatever.. there are trade schools for that.

Now why the industry has decided that a programmer with a university degree is better than one with a degree from a decent vocational school, I have no idea...

Re:Don't really get the American system (2)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#40810931)

Now why the industry has decided that a programmer with a university degree is better than one with a degree from a decent vocational school, I have no idea..

My AS in electronics which was pretty much a EE without the liberal arts electives was around $1500/semester full time depending on books.

My BS in CS at a private college was around $15000/semester full time (although I went part time with reimbursement, even with xfer credits from the associates took something like 6 years)

That's $13500 per semester of debt slavery. Or $13500 willingness to be lead around by a nose ring without regard to the students future. Or willingness to follow the herd.

If a voc/tech school charged as much as a engineering university, then it would get the same respect. Its just conspicuous consumption, nothing more.

Flamebait Headline (4, Insightful)

Missing.Matter (1845576) | about 2 years ago | (#40810643)

The summary and headline seem to imply that the professor is questioning whether algebra/mathematics is necessary for anyone, but really he's asking if it's necessary for everyone. I have a degree in physics and computer engineering and I personally benefit tremendously from mathematics. But pretty much everyone I know (outside of my comp sci/phsyics friends) is terrible at math, and never use anything except simple calculations in their daily lives, and they get by just fine in their professions. Yes, they do a lot of math without being very aware of it, but they don't need to know the extent of the theory, and they aren't what I would consider especially proficient, which is what highschool at least aims to make you.

The professor in the article is asking something completely different and reasonable: since everyone is different, and everyone has a set of proficiencies and aptitudes, why do we try to teach everything a set of knowledge someone somewhere has somehow determined to be paramount? What if everyone's talent was fostered at a young age instead of forcing them to neglect their proficiencies and learn skills which perhaps they will never use? Would we end up with a society where everyone was an expert at something, rather than a society where everyone has a little knowledge everywhere but no real spectacular skill?

I don't know the answer to any of these questions, but really, I think they're worth considering. I for one was fostered at a young age because my parents identified that I was good at science and math, and I benefited tremendously. I could only imagine if that kind of fostering was afforded to every child, we might be better off.

Re:Flamebait Headline (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810719)

You, and the author, are pretending like Algebra is advanced math. It's not -- at least not the portion that typical students are required to know.

Re:Flamebait Headline (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810791)

He *is* pushing the argument too far though, at least way beyond the point where it loses merit. From TFA:

But there's no evidence that being able to prove (x^2 + y^2)^2 = (x^2 - y^2)^2 + (2xy)^2 leads to more credible political opinions or social analysis.

Really? lack of even basic abstract thinking skills is now enough for credible political opinions and social analysis? That silly equation requires elementary notions like multiplication and addition. Hardly rocket science. I shudder to think that people who would consider that *hard* might actually have a significant weight in a country's political or social decisions.

By the same argument, you don't need to go to the gym, as it doesn't do anything for your daily job for the vast majority of people. Keeping muscles in shape? phew, who needs that. Keeping your brain in shape? double phew! So I move to eliminate *both* math and sports from all curricula, or at most make them electives with no presence in passing exams or getting admission to college.

Re:Flamebait Headline (0)

Tough Love (215404) | about 2 years ago | (#40810809)

The summary and headline seem to imply that the professor is questioning whether algebra/mathematics is necessary for anyone, but really he's asking if it's necessary for everyone.

To be precise, simple algebra and basic mathematics is necessary for everbody except Apple customers, because there's an app for that.

Re:Flamebait Headline (1)

ztexas (1351217) | about 2 years ago | (#40810923)

Nicely said, from another math/cs/physics/engineering type. Wish I had mod points for you. My wife is terrible at maths... fine with arithmetic and the most basic algebra, but I fail to see how making her struggle with factoring quadratic equations helped her (or society) in any way. One of the most brilliant programmers I've ever met is a terrible speller. Perhaps he should have been denied his high school diploma?

Oh Hell No! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810651)

Why on Earth would Algebra be of any value to a political science student? Why would it be good for a political science major to be able to do basic mathematics? Economics is for chumps!

There's no value in algebra for political science MORONS. If however you want a well rounded graduate with the ability to understand rudimentary levels of statistics, probability, economics, you know, governmenty stuff, then algebra is probably a pretty good foundation block.

Let's look at the larger picture (4, Interesting)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | about 2 years ago | (#40810659)

There is so much missing from high school and post high school education. I'm from Quebec so the system is a bit different, you go to CEGEP between high school and university here. Anyways, nobody learns about how the society works here. We need young people to learn about the Civil Code, how contracts work, how renting works, how buying real estate works. Nothing in depth, but at least a functional knowledge so you don't walk into bad situations.

Am I making sense? We are focusing on things that are easy to teach like piles of math. Things that are complex and can create aware citizens seems to interest the system less.

Re:Let's look at the larger picture (1)

cnettel (836611) | about 2 years ago | (#40810793)

And you are supposed to learn how renting works (and whether you are being shafted or making a good deal), without math?

Re:Let's look at the larger picture (1)

tibit (1762298) | about 2 years ago | (#40810905)

Precisely. The overwhelming credit card debt and the mortgage fiascos the world over is mainly because people can't figure out simple compound interest.

Re:Let's look at the larger picture (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 2 years ago | (#40810855)

You know, the worst situations people walk into regarding the things you mentioned probably involve credit and interest. and how do you understand interest? With algebra.

Re:Let's look at the larger picture (1)

raodin (708903) | about 2 years ago | (#40810941)

You make a good point, in that schools tend not to teach a lot off important life skills. That doesn't mean we should skimp on foundation skills like math. What point is there teaching someone about real estate, if they can't even handle algebra? Understanding concepts like interest rates requires more than basic arithmetic.

another Lake Woebegone thesis (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810673)

Instead of cramming all this 19th century "3 R's" curricula down the throat of our nation's youth, let's empower all our kids and concentrate on raising their self esteem! Once they learn to love themselves (like Whitney Houston sang about in her big hit), they'll be able to love their fellow men and women!

We can begin by making courses like "How to Judge American Idol" the centerpiece of our 7th grade programs.

Yup. (4, Insightful)

mosb1000 (710161) | about 2 years ago | (#40810679)

Most students do not really understand mathematics anyway, they simply memorize equations and techniques. Why should students who can't manage that be barred from the higher levels in other courses?

Re:Yup. (1)

gweihir (88907) | about 2 years ago | (#40810779)

Indeed. But if we require mathematical understanding, what do we do with all the morons that are simply incapable, but still want to have some "higher education" to hide their stupidity behind? Turn them directly into managers and politicians?

the true lesson (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810689)

This tells us very little about teaching algebra or its usefulness, but quite a lot about political "science".

Limiting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810693)

Certainly it's limiting, all those poor political science majors have to go through big, scary math to get to the useful thing. Like political science.

Claiming mathematics causes high dropout rates (2)

noahgolm (2663281) | about 2 years ago | (#40810697)

The author of that article cites high dropout rates, then claiming that these are caused by algebra courses without any evidence. Really, freshman year algebra is simple and taught even earlier in many schools.

Dumbed down education and "civilization" (1)

harvey the nerd (582806) | about 2 years ago | (#40810701)

I can't honestly associate "college level" with having to learn remedial algebra. Secondary or tertiary training for the innumerate should be distinguished from advanced or professional education. We already have a hand waving, bullsht "politically correct" society, ever less capable of effective competition and critical thought at the individual level. This brain fart proposal further promotes and affirms that.

Idiot (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810705)

Algebra is very simple. There are only two reasons someone would not understand it. The first is that their teachers are not teaching them correctly. This includes the person/child having an undiagnosed or unacknowledged learning disability of some kind, by which I mean something like severe ADD or dyslexia. Something that inhibits traditional learning processes but does not actually reduce a person's intelligence or ability to reason. The second reason is that the person is literally an idiot (by the medical definition).

Yes, it is. (1)

ocean_soul (1019086) | about 2 years ago | (#40810713)

But it's no surprise that a political science prof doesn't understand this.

Re:Yes, it is. (1)

gweihir (88907) | about 2 years ago | (#40810789)

Indeed. Probably he never mastered mathematics to any reasonable degree.

Of course it is necessary... (4, Informative)

mikael (484) | about 2 years ago | (#40810715)

Algebra is a subset of mathematics, and forms the basis for statistics. Statistical analysis is required in just about every science field as well as arts. Social studies and biology require analysis of population dynamics; geology and geography require understanding of hydrodynamic equations. Psychology requires statistical analysis in many different ways. There's even a mathematical package called SPSS - Statistical Package for the Social Sciences. Even history will require the use of probabilty analysis to determine the most likely chain of events.

Diplomas for everyone! (1)

misnohmer (1636461) | about 2 years ago | (#40810723)

Let's just sell diplomas to everyone with a credit card and we'll be the most educated nation in the world! So what if the people buying them cannot balance their checkbooks or figure out that $50/month for 60 months is way more expensive than a $1000 one time fee - hey, we'll be propping up the failing bank industry too!

Idiot is as idiot does (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810739)

This guy is an idiot. A high school diplomas mean less now than they did 50 years ago, college degrees mean less than they did 25 years ago. We're devaluing the meaning of formal education by dumbing it down to get more people through it and it is killing us when we compare our education system to those around the world. The idea that everyone is suited for high education is a strangely American fallacy. Should everyone have access? Yes. Should we make it easy enough that everyone can succeed at it? No.

Education and training are different things. If our concern is training to make people useful then let's make training available but don't make education pointless for those that can succeed. The real answer is trade schools, apprentice systems, junior colleges, certification systems, etc. The problem is this sort of approach too often leads to "tracking" which is considered horrible by most educators because it tends to exclude some populations from the highest level of education. The truth of the matter however is that not everyone is ready for college. If you didn't have the proper education and environment for the first 18 years of your life you're probably (n.b. there are always exceptions who will succeed regardless of the barriers) not prepared fo turn it all around in the next 4. If you want to have a history-only degree that can get you a job in a historical society or a library then fine but don't dumb down the highest levels of education just so that we can pretend that the guy who has a tripple degree in Physics, Math, and Philosophy is functionally equivalent to someone who didn't take entry level math because it was hard.

Whatever your goals teaching less of the subjects which promote rational thought, critical thinking, and problem solving is definitely not the answer to making education better.

Closing doors (1)

peteypooh (465922) | about 2 years ago | (#40810763)

If we stop teaching algebra to all students at the high school or early college level, we are closing certain doors to them. You simply cannot master an entry-level, algebra-based Physics course without geometry and a lot of algebra work. If you can't do that, you cannot major in physics, most engineering subjects, nor math itself. I think economics would be a stretch as well.

If students (or parents) can choose to not take algebra at the 9th grade level, they are making a de facto decision that they will not study nor work in a STEM field later in life. Age 13 is awfully early to make that choice. They have not even attempted the challenge yet -- they do not know their abilities.

Even if they do continue in their studies and gain admittance to college, it will almost be a moot point. Their opportunities will have long since been limited.

Re:Closing doors (1)

Jeremy Erwin (2054) | about 2 years ago | (#40810805)

Shouldn't Physics be based on Calculus?

Re:Closing doors (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | about 2 years ago | (#40810939)

You don't (or at least didn't when I took it) need Calculus for High School Physics. Just algebra, geometry and a little bit of basic trig. Once you reach college, you'll need Calculus, but not for the basics.

Yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810773)

There used to be some kid's show my son used to watch, there was a character that was a fanatical Russian Math teacher who used to say, "Without Math, we are nothing but cavemen eating mud!"

Is there a /. department of Ironic Headlines now? (2)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 2 years ago | (#40810783)

Political Science Prof Asks: Is Algebra Necessary?

That's Political Science.

Everyone wants Excel skills. (4, Insightful)

Above (100351) | about 2 years ago | (#40810797)

If you've been in any large business you realize that it operates primarily on Excel spreadsheets being repeatedly e-mailed back and forth. While many of the folks creating these spreadsheets don't even realize it, each of the cells are little algebraic equations. People often ask "what from math class do you use every day", well algebra is an easy one, people write business formulas in Excel.

Re:Everyone wants Excel skills. (2)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | about 2 years ago | (#40810927)

Exactly. I'd argue that algebra is probably the minimum required mathematics to be able to handle much of the world today: It's where symbolic math and basic formula skills (not even solving, but just evaluating!) are taught. Without that, you are going to have trouble with any Excel worksheet, any tax form, and numerous other things on a day-to-day basis.

If someone wants to go into a non-math heavy field and thinks they won't need more than that, ok, I can see the argument - most of what follows is only actually needed in specific fields - but you've got to be able to handle that much.

What science? (2)

biodata (1981610) | about 2 years ago | (#40810829)

Politics is not a science except in Asimov stories.

Theory is necessary (2)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#40810833)

How about we teach math theory from the bottom up instead of teaching students this is a formula and this is when you use it? When you understand a thing rather than having it by rote it will stay with you.

Of Course It Is Necessary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810835)

Algebra is one of the fundamental ways to introduce problem solving. It is absolutely necessary: http://pinojo.com/2012/07/29/is-algebra-necessary-absolutely/

As an art student... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810837)

...who did reasonably well in math in high school and college, I thought I'd never use it in life. That is, until I began dabbling in 3D programs and learning procedural texturing and animation. I can't imagine life without basic algebra and trigonometry. I was as far left as humanities could go, without needing as much as writing a paper, now I'm finding myself downloading math books and learning new formulas all the time.

Look at the British System (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810839)

As a Brit living in the US I find the US education system very complex and can understand why some students would give up on education rather than study all the general education requirements all the way through the system. I myself am pretty good at the sciences and anything that can be worked out given some basic information but was terrible at history where I had to simply remember dates and events. If I'd had to do history (and a few other subjects) all the way through school I'd have given up.

In the British system (of 20 years ago and I hope it's not changed significantly) everybody did general education until 16, with some limited specialization into the subjects that were of most interest, this would have included basic algebra for everybody and more advanced algebra for those with more interest in Maths. After that those students who did not want to continue an academic career could leave school and get apprenticeships and/or training more suited to their chosen profession (e.g. Plumbers who probably do not need or want to know much more than basic algebra).

From 16 to 18 the rest specialized into 3 or 4 subjects of choice and then from 18 to 21 a single subject at university. We did have to take one class outside the department that meant for the computer science department most students took a maths course.

The benefits of this in my mind is that at 16 or 18 years old students can leave the academic education system if it is not what they want to do and start working, and those that do continue to University have a bachelors degree by the age of 21 and are ready to work (except of course for those that continue on to do a masters degree).

WTF is this reddit? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40810857)

Slashdot has become nothing more than a day old semi-nerd related reddit.

Short answer: yes. (4, Insightful)

n5vb (587569) | about 2 years ago | (#40810869)

Longer answer:

The fact that anyone felt the need to ask this question says to me that we're doing education wrong in the USA. Very wrong. Fundamentally wrong. Yes, algebra is necessary, possibly more necessary than any other branch of math, because there are so many other fundamentally useful concepts wrapped up in it -- formal logic, proof, and a whole bunch of other basic building blocks of epistemology, not just mathematics -- that IMHO it's crucial to teaching students to think and reason answers and not just churn them out by rote memorization the way they do with arithmetic .. the way we're currently teaching it.

But why are we approaching the subject as though it's something "hard" that we have to "work" to learn and then question whether the effort is necessary? The only reason we have that view of it is that by the time our kids hit algebra, they've had all the curiosity and fascination for new knowledge hammered out of them, by normalizing their curriculum to death assembly-line style. Arithmetic by addition and multiplication tables and memorization is boring, mind-numbingly so, and any kid who gets through that gauntlet and is still interested in algebra didn't learn his/her math in the classroom, they learned it by exploring and playing around with it and getting a feel for number theory and how arithmetic operators work .. you know, real math, the kind that gets the imagination flowing.

And if you haven't had curiosity crushed out of you by memorization drills, algebra is fascinating. If you're teaching it right and letting the math itself do the teaching, you'd be hard pressed to stop kids from learning it. Case in point: In my 6th grade math class, a "substitute" (who I'm fairly sure was actually an education researcher experimenting with math teaching methods, but "substitute" was what they called him) came into the class, which was starting on basic algebra, and taught us what turned out to be differentiation by the power rule. I ended up using that one method in every math class I had from then on -- much to the consternation of my teachers who weren't quite sure how to deal with me doing differential calculus on high school algebra tests -- but I also ended up exploring how polynomials went through simpler and simpler derivatives until they ended up as a constant, and then zero, and gained a whole new appreciation for how they worked, and later on, integration and the fundamental theorem of calculus just sort of fell into place. The power rule is still one of my old friends when it comes to math. But I have that "substitute" to thank for most of the algebra I learned on my own because I couldn't get enough of it -- that one little seed sparked a whole adventure that continued to teach me mathematics for decades afterward.

Granted, I'm a hardcore nerd in a lot of ways, but I'm not entirely sure that's an aspect of who I am and not just an artifact of a society raised on the "math is hard" meme. It's hard, yes, but it's irresistible to a curious mind, and we're all born curious .. it's how we bootstrap every bit of knowledge we gain firsthand about the world. If we stop killing it in the schools, give it a few generations and our PolySci professors wouldn't even think to ask this question..

wrong (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | about 2 years ago | (#40810925)

Given how poor people's basic math is, I don't think Algebra is the problem. I'd say if anything there isn't enough focus on math in general and that needs to be improved rather than taking math away.
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