Washington Post questions value of algebra

February 17th, 2006

The US may be in worse shape than previously thought. The Washington Post published a piece from Op-Ed columnist Richard Cohen yesterday questioning whether algebra should be a required subject in high school.

“You will never need to know algebra. I have never once used it and never once even rued that I could not use it. You will never need to know–never mind want to know–how many boys it will take to mow a lawn if one of them quits halfway and two more show up later–or something like that. Most of math can now be done by a computer or calculator. On the other hand, no computer can write a column or even a thank-you note–or reason even a little bit. If, say, the school asked you for another year of English or, God forbid, history, so that you actually had to know something about your world, I would be on its side. But algebra? Please.”

A post on Scientific American’s blog summed it up nicely:

No one in Hyderabad or Shenzen is calling for getting rid of secondary algebra requirements. Why? The math is simple:

No algebra = No calculus = No science = No technology = We’re totally *&$#FRTDG!!!!!

Ironically, the ads that google puts on Cohen’s piece on the web are for companies offering books and tutoring to help students learn algebra. One of the country’s most respected papers warns kids away from an outmoded, traditional academic subject and crass advertisers, out to make it rich, are pushing their wares on the poor kids.