Algebra is necessary, says Gettysburg College math prof to New York Times

An op-ed published in the New York Times’ Sunday Review on July 28 examined and defended the elimination of algebra from curriculums across the nation.

The op-ed was written by Andrew Hacker, emeritus professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York, who believes making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent.

“My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject,” Hacker said, “but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources.”

Darren Glass, chair of the Mathematics Department at Gettysburg College, begs to differ.

From the New York Times’ Sunday Review:

Is Algebra Necessary?

By Andrew Hacker

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? Read the rest of the article.

Darren GlassDarren Glass (pictured right), chair of the Math Department at Gettysburg College, authored a response to Hacker’s op-ed:

It has been almost exactly two decades since Mattell was roundly criticized for a Barbie doll that said, “Math is hard. Let’s go shopping instead.” Yet Andrew Hacker’s editorial “Is Algebra Necessary” argues the same idea, saying that too many students do not succeed at algebra, so we should eliminate it from the curriculum. Math educators do need to think carefully about what topics to emphasize, especially as the role of technology in our world continues to evolve, but my experience is that good teachers do this already. The skills learned in algebra class ­ both the explicit computations and the power of abstraction in thought ­ will be incredibly useful for a wide range of students in their future education, careers, and life. If we are going to have any kind of common curriculum, it is hard for me to imagine what belongs in it more than mathematics, including algebra.

What are your thoughts on the subject? Share them in the Comments section below.

Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.

Posted: Wed, 1 Aug 2012

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