In Defense of Algebra

Email a Friend

We’ve been talking x squared minus y cubed divided by z to the power of four lately. This is the language of algebra.

Andrew Hacker, professor of political science at Queens College New York, recently proclaimed on The Takeaway that the age old belief that "algebra and mathematics generally sharpens our mind, gives us critical reasoning faculties and so on...[is] total fiction."

Many of our listeners weighed in on the topic. Nancy W. from Northville, Michigan says: "I am a pianist and private piano instructor. I also have held positions in employee relations and communications. Do I use algebra or geometry daily? No. However, I'm sure they did much to enhance my critical thinking skills, much like the music I teach enhances a student's general coordination, reading, and collaborative skills. And I will say, geometry has come in handy as my husband and I have made home improvements on our own, determined the fall pattern of a dead tree we removed, and many other 'round-the-home' projects. Yeah, math!"

Another listener, Amber W., from Utah, explains: "My undergraduate degree was in philosophy, so I could argue most of my degree was useless. However, because of what I learned in those classes, I could also easily argue otherwise. Not everything we learn is directly useful. Algebra is a great prequel for symbolic logic. I do not think everyone needs a formal course in that, but they need the basic skills. We lack basic logic already. There could be alternatives, but I do not see them in the guests option."

Evelyn Lamb holds a PhD in Mathematics from Rice University and is a writer for Scientific American.