In defense of algebra

Overcoming her math phobia, middle-school teacher Jessica Lahey sat in on a colleague’s algebra class, she writes in the New York Times in response to Andrew Hacker’s Is Algebra Necessary?

I have learned discipline and the importance of linear, organized thinking. I have learned patience, diligence and shockingly, I have learned that I am good at math.

She wants to set a good example for her son, who might want to be an engineer.

Everyone should learn basic algebra by 12th grade, but most students don’t need advanced math, argues Justin Baeder in On Performance. “We should teach less advanced math, teach it better, and eliminate the absurd math requirements that block access to higher education for millions of students.”

Arizona is requiring four years of math — algebra, geometry, advanced algebra and a year of “significant” math  — starting with the class of 2013.  Schools are offering pre-calculus, financial algebra, trigonometry and statistics as fourth-year math classes.

About Joanne


  1. Florida resident says:

    Dear Ms. Jacobs !
    I would like to share my experience,
    When our daughter was in High School,
    I have told her repeatedly:
    “If I will die before you finish your education,
    you must take “Linear Algebra” course,
    and then do whatever you want with your life.”

    Now she took it twice (both successfully),
    and now I am feee to die !!!

    Respectfully yours, Florida resident.

  2. EVERY high school in the U.S. should require four years of Math! (and four years of Science, four years of Social Studies, and four years of English Literature / Writing… all as a minimum for graduation).

    “We should… eliminate the absurd math requirements that block access to higher education for millions of students.”

    That’s crazy. Let’s just see how far we can lower the bar for college admission and graduation! Pretty soon lawyers will be demanding that the illiterate are being discriminated against unfarily when applying for college. “Well, the innumerate are allowed in! So how is this ‘fair’?”

    • Obi-Wandreas says:

      Definitely agree on the four years of math. It shouldn’t necessarily be advanced math for all, but there’s easily enough useful algebra, trig, geometry, stats, etc to fill four years.

      For any student to do less than four years of any the core subjects is unacceptable.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      Right now lots of students take math courses after algebra 1 and pass them without understanding much of anything in them. High school students have developed a lot of skill in remembering what teachers want them to remember for three weeks and then forgetting it after the test.

      Many didn’t understand a lot of what they did in algebra 1 and still don’t. We would be better off making sure that everyone understands the basic concepts of algebra–and not piling on courses so we can pretend that they understand algebra 2, geometry, trigonometry, or calculus.

      It is absolutely not true that passing a course means the student remembers much of anything from it two months later.

  3. “I have learned discipline and the importance of linear, organized thinking.”

    The education world won’t like that. According to many professional development classes and general education discussions at work, linear thinking is just not cool anymore.

    • And if you’re an administrator, it’s not allowed! You have to (literally) be, or at least convincingly act like, a total idiot to get your principal’s license. You also have to have a totally out of control PC bent and hate teachers, and worship at the feet of horrible parents. Also, hating your country, state, or Western civilization as a whole is a bonus.

      • J.D. Salinger says:

        Hating all textbooks that have topics in logical sequence, with appropriate problems and drills, is also a must.