College Math Teaching

July 30, 2012

Good writing is difficult! So let’s drop writing requirements from the curriculum….

Filed under: basic algebra, editorial, elementary mathematics — collegemathteaching @ 8:02 pm

Ok, no one I know is advocating for this. But when it comes to basic algebra (the “solve for x” x^2 + 8x + 12 = 0 kind of algebra), well:

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? I’ve found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn’t.

Go ahead and read the rest of the article; it is full of the usual “well people aren’t going to use the quadratic formula in real life”, blah, blah, blah.

Fortunately, the reader recommended comments are good.

So, why should algebra remain part of the curriculum? Here is my opinion:

while algebra is a huge human intellectual achievement, it is also a gateway to things like calculus, economics, statistics, chemistry, physical science and other subjects. NOT requiring algebra will intellectually cripple thousands of students right off the bat.

Of course, I disagree with algebra being used as a “capstone” type course in its current form; its current form makes it into a gateway type of course.

One could devise some sort of capstone type algebra course if one wanted to, but it would be different than the preparatory course.

Interestingly enough, when this subject comes up, I usually hear comments of the following type: “well, *I* am very, very smart but I struggled with it, therefore it is unnecessary”….and usually the sole credential for the person’s intellectual ability is, well, their own opinion of said ability. 🙂

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