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Is Algebra Really Necessary?

Monday, August 26, 2013 - 05:07 PM

Writer Nicholson Baker asks a simple question in next month's issue of Harper's Magazine: “Why, if math is so great and timeless and beautiful, do millions of people hate it so much?”

During an interview with WNYC's Leonard Lopate last week, Baker discussed his article, "Wrong Answer: The Case Against Algebra II." He explains how the "great art" was founded in Baghdad in the 1500, and why it became part of the high school curriculum. A study found students who take Algebra II have higher incomes.

But Nicholson argued that this correlation that has more to do with the degrees those students pursue in college, and that this higher level of algebra it isn't for everyone. He says high schools "should confront that" because their aim isn't to make everyone good at the same thing, but to "lodge a few life enriching nuggets and knowledge" into students' heads.

"There are lots of things you can do in life that don't use math," he said. 

Do you agree with his provocative statement? Or do you side with those who say math is increasingly important in the 21st century economy? Listen to the segment by clicking the link above.

And check out WNYC's 2009 series on a remedial class at LaGuardia Community College, where students debated this same topic.

Part 1: The Hurdle of Remedial Math at a Community College

Part 2: How to Keep an A

Part 3: Teaching Math Means Breaking it Down

Part 4: How They Scored and The Real Test for Community Colleges

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Comments [1]

Ben L from New Jersey

While there are many careers that do not require higher math, do we want to push students into a situation where they do not have the math skills to pursue them in college? By shortening students' exposure to math, this is essentially what we are doing. As it is, colleges need to remediate writing and math deficits. Mr. Baker's suggestions would just make the situation worse.

Aug. 28 2013 12:13 AM

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