Author Topic: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?  (Read 1991 times)

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Offline Calvin6s

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Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« on: March 29, 2016, 04:22:30 PM »
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That question muttered by many a frustrated student over the years has become a vigorous debate among American educators, sparked by a provocative new book that argues required algebra has become an unnecessary stumbling block that forces millions to drop out of high school or college.
...
In New York City, home to the nation's largest public school system with 1.1 million pupils, just 52 percent of the students who took last year's statewide Regents test in Algebra I passed, mirroring statistics elsewhere in the country.

So the answer to improving our schools test results and graduation rates is to dumb down the requirements?

Quote
Hacker, a professor emeritus at Queens College, argues that, at most, only 5 percent of jobs make use of algebra and other advanced math courses. He favors a curriculum that focuses more on statistics and basic numbers sense and less on (y - 3)2 = 4y - 12.
Only 5 percent?  Is this a joke?  I think the only job I didn't use some form of Algebra or Geometry was my high school job at the movie theater.  And if I wanted to advance that as a career, it would have eventually been necessary.  Simple scheduling employees in relation to varying occupant size would prove valuable.

Quote
"Will algebra help you understand the federal budget?" he asked.
Yes? 

Quote
"When it came to x and y and graphing, that's when I started dropping, and it made me feel low," he said. "But we don't need to learn what x and y is. When in life are we going to write on paper, 'X and y needs to be this?'"
All the time if you expect to make more than minimum wage?

And as far as it being too hard for high school (let alone college), Algebra 1 took place in Jr. High, not High School.  And that pacing isn't all that special.  In Jr. High, the Indian-American kid with the involved parents had him crossing the street during 2nd period to take Geometry at the high school.  I would say about 1/3 to 1/2 of my freshman class took Geometry having already passed Algebra 1.

What gets me is a professor is pushing this idea.  Not surprising it is a political science professor.  He not only be dismissed, but made aware he could be causing serious harm to these students with his ideas.
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Offline El Barto

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2016, 04:59:43 PM »
My initial thought when reading the subject was a defense of algebra as it's important to understand the relationship of numbers. Not necessarily solving for X, mind you, but the interrelatedness of it all. However, it sounds like he's more interested in expanding other areas of math, which might actually be an improvement. I wouldn't consider geometry advanced math, and it's certainly a valuable skill, but algebra is one of the more focused disciplines and not as universally useful. Moreover, on the very rare occasion that I do need something akin to algebra I find that I've already forgotten it all due to decades of disuse.

Moreover, this reminds me of the discussion we had a few years go about common core math learning. I gather that they're actually focusing more on the interrelatedness of numbers now and teaching math on a more generalized basis. This is in some ways a huge improvement as it utilizes the techniques many of us already employ (subtracting something to make addition easier, then adding it back, or breaking a number down and multiplying/dividing its components separately, for example). However, what we figured out was that some people can do math one way while others can only do it completely differently. I suspect that applies here, as well, in that there are some people who will chew algebra up and others that will never grasp it. With something as specialized as algebra I'm not too terribly bothered by making it an elective or an honors class, but only as long as more basic aspects of math (including geometry) are better demonstrated.

While I certainly agree that dumbing things down to cover up a lousy system is a sham, I think there's also a case to be made that insisting everybody learn the same thing, the same way, isn't exactly the best approach to education, either.
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Offline Chino

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2016, 05:04:58 PM »
Regardless of whether or not all jobs use algebra is irrelevant, learning it uses and strengthens areas of your brain that could be applicable elsewhere. I don't have to draw or color at my job, is crafts class an unnecessary stumbling block for kindergarteners?

Removing algebra from the school curriculum is a retarded idea.

I always said I'd never need algebra at my job... That is until I had to write up specs and documentation for an application's use of probabilistic models provided by an outside vendor.

Offline Genowyn

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2016, 05:06:30 PM »
When people act like they don't have to use algebra in real life I just shake my head.

Any time you ask "How many of x can I buy with my $y", that's goddamn algebra.

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Offline Chino

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2016, 05:07:07 PM »
Disregard

Offline Genowyn

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #5 on: March 29, 2016, 05:09:27 PM »
And all calculation is algebra, really. You're still solving for an unknown x. Just because it's fairly simple and all your non-x values are on one side, doesn't mean it's not algebra.

5 + 3 = x

I also recall looking at the homework a family friend's kid have, with questions like

5 + _ = 8

Teaching the foundations of algebra before adding those pesky variables in.

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Offline El Barto

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #6 on: March 29, 2016, 05:18:19 PM »
Regardless of whether or not all jobs use algebra is irrelevant, learning it uses and strengthens areas of your brain that could be applicable elsewhere. I don't have to draw or color at my job, is crafts class an unnecessary stumbling block for kindergarteners?
I certainly can't argue with that. However, I think we can find less specialized ways of strengthening people's brains for some. I'm here to tell you that not everybody can conceptualize math the same way, and trying to force it onto people who struggle isn't going to further educate them.

And I don't think "How man tacos can I buy for a dollar" is really the problem. "What's the square root of the number of tacos I can buy with 34^7¢" is a different matter.
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Offline Genowyn

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #7 on: March 29, 2016, 05:19:43 PM »
I hope you can buy a goddamn lot of tacos for $525 million

Ultimately though, algebra is a set of tools you use to approach problems. I haven't been through the US educational system, so far all I know you teach it in a shitty way, but it's pretty a pretty essential set of skills just for dealing with numbers in your everyday life.

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Offline pcs90

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #8 on: March 29, 2016, 05:29:21 PM »
Completely removing algebra from schools is a pretty stupid idea and this is coming from someone who hates math with a passion.
That being said, a lot of what they do teach you really is useless. In fact I remember asking my teachers "when would I use this?" many times and they couldn't come up with any jobs (aside from extremely specific ones that I had no interest in) where it would be applicable.
Rather than "dumbing down" the requirements, I feel more focus needs to be placed on other areas of math, and the parts of algebra that people actually do need to know are taught in a way that makes them more relatable in the real world. I couldn't tell you one thing I did in algebra now and I'm doing just fine. Am I using algebraic concepts? Probably...but they are basic ones if so -- ones that students should already know (or will learn quickly) by the time they need to take that class. In my case, after I was finished with a test over a certain thing, that information was gone forever and this is exactly the same with many other people.

Offline El Barto

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #9 on: March 29, 2016, 05:29:33 PM »
God damn exponents!  :lol

Ultimately though, algebra is a set of tools you use to approach problems.
Perfectly said. And my response would be that I want people to have lots of tools at their disposal. However some people wield one set better than another and insisting on one at the expense of another which they might be better suited for is doing them a disservice.  As I said in my first post, I want everybody to have a very keen grasp of math, and in my case I appreciate the demonstration of principles that algebra provides, yet I can also surmise that some people might find those demonstrations better elsewhere.
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Offline pcs90

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #10 on: March 29, 2016, 05:35:47 PM »
And my response would be that I want people to have lots of tools at their disposal. However some people wield one set better than another and insisting on one at the expense of another which they might be better suited for is doing them a disservice.  As I said in my first post, I want everybody to have a very keen grasp of math, and in my case I appreciate the demonstration of principles that algebra provides, yet I can also surmise that some people might find those demonstrations better elsewhere.
Yep, very well said.

Offline Genowyn

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #11 on: March 29, 2016, 05:48:44 PM »
I think I am going to be biased when we talk about this because I actually enjoy math quite a bit. I am subscribed to a few youtube channels that are entirely about mathematics, and when I saw their example equation in the article my immediate instinct was to solve it. (y = 3)

So now I've read the article, and it seems like people are mostly complaining about the use of variables? He asks "When am I going to write down x and y need to be this?" Again I posit, all the fucking time. We just don't call them x and y. Doing a household budget? I argue you're using algebra, because, broadly, the whole system of arithmetic we use is algebra.

So maybe I'm getting hung up on terms, but it seems like what people are asserting isn't necessary is solving for unknown variables. I think it's absurd to say that, and I'm not sure how people get through life without solving for the occasional unknown variable. It's even more absurd to say we don't algebra at all, because our whole modern system of mathematics is based on algebra, and you need mathematics, even in some basic form, to function in society at all.
« Last Edit: March 29, 2016, 05:54:49 PM by Genowyn »

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Offline bosk1

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #12 on: March 30, 2016, 09:20:11 AM »
God damn exponents!  :lol

I realize I am going to be somewhat talking past you because:

I'm here to tell you that not everybody can conceptualize math the same way, and trying to force it onto people who struggle isn't going to further educate them.
I agree with that.  And, consequently, I agree that educators need to be aware of different learning methods and should learn to be somewhat flexible in how they present concepts so that most of their students eventually "get it" at some level.  But that has always been true and has always been what the "better" teachers try to do, I think. 

But using exponents as an example:  Yeah, most jobs out there that the average Joe will work at will probably not directly require him (or her, if we are talking about Average Josephine) to use exponents.  But there are tons of examples in everyday life of things multiplying exponentially, or there being exponential results or consequences.  That type of generally relationship or function is important to understand and is critically useful in everyday life and everyday understanding of how some things work in the world.  I think I'm probably beating a dead horse here, but as others have said, I do indeed think that the concepts taught in algebra classes are pretty essential.
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Offline Stadler

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #13 on: March 30, 2016, 09:27:13 AM »
Completely removing algebra from schools is a pretty stupid idea and this is coming from someone who hates math with a passion.
That being said, a lot of what they do teach you really is useless. In fact I remember asking my teachers "when would I use this?" many times and they couldn't come up with any jobs (aside from extremely specific ones that I had no interest in) where it would be applicable.
Rather than "dumbing down" the requirements, I feel more focus needs to be placed on other areas of math, and the parts of algebra that people actually do need to know are taught in a way that makes them more relatable in the real world. I couldn't tell you one thing I did in algebra now and I'm doing just fine. Am I using algebraic concepts? Probably...but they are basic ones if so -- ones that students should already know (or will learn quickly) by the time they need to take that class. In my case, after I was finished with a test over a certain thing, that information was gone forever and this is exactly the same with many other people.

That's a function of bad teaching, though, not of incorrect information.

I'm a lawyer, involved in the sale of trains, and yet I use some form or fashion of algebra every day.   When I was doing environmental construction it was several times a day. 

I agree with el Barto in a sense - that you can't use a one-sized fits all approach - but I feel STRONGLY that we should not dumb down our education.  Even for those people for whom math is not a walk in the park, don't we need to know that?   We shouldn't have an education system that has everyone as a "genius", because that just means that "genius" is redefined as "the dumbest kid in the class". 

As for exponents... I'm in another thread (here) talking about the minimum wage, and the concept of compounding interest seems lost on some people.   Bernie Sanders entire campaign is predicated on people not understanding what compounding interest is.   What is it, mathematically?   EXPONENTS.

Even if we don't use this stuff "every day" maybe we should.   Maybe we should focus on making this stuff useful instead of taking the easy way out and avoiding it all together. 

Offline Stadler

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #14 on: March 30, 2016, 09:37:34 AM »
I think I am going to be biased when we talk about this because I actually enjoy math quite a bit. I am subscribed to a few youtube channels that are entirely about mathematics, and when I saw their example equation in the article my immediate instinct was to solve it. (y = 3)

So now I've read the article, and it seems like people are mostly complaining about the use of variables? He asks "When am I going to write down x and y need to be this?" Again I posit, all the fucking time. We just don't call them x and y. Doing a household budget? I argue you're using algebra, because, broadly, the whole system of arithmetic we use is algebra.

So maybe I'm getting hung up on terms, but it seems like what people are asserting isn't necessary is solving for unknown variables. I think it's absurd to say that, and I'm not sure how people get through life without solving for the occasional unknown variable. It's even more absurd to say we don't algebra at all, because our whole modern system of mathematics is based on algebra, and you need mathematics, even in some basic form, to function in society at all.

Around Christmas time, my daughter hat a stack of pictures she wanted mounted in a frame, but wanted them all the same space apart (left and right) and the same space apart (up and down), so she could put captions in.   

I started by measuring the frame and the pictures, and began with:  the number of pictures (unknown); the width of a picture (six inches); the number of spaces (one less than the number of pictures); the width of the spaces (unknown); the number of edges (2; essentially the "outermost spaces"); and the width of the edges.   So I made a formula:
6x+(x-1)y+2z=the width of the frame.   And solved from there.  (We set the spaces in between pictures at an inch, then decided the width of the edges would be an inch, and solved it down to five pictures, each spaced an inch apart).   She was blown away.   

I have little scraps of paper all over the house - the amount of sheetrock I needed to wall the back side of the garage; where to run my speaker wires for my surround sound; etc. - that have "algebra" on them.  So yeah, some of us DO write down "x and y".   

Offline cramx3

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #15 on: March 30, 2016, 09:44:38 AM »
I really like math (or liked, I havent studied math since college) but I find algebra to be extremely useful in real life.  And not necessarily just solving a problem, but just basics of figuring shit out in life. 

Maybe instead of dropping it altogether, the math class integrates the mathematics into more real world like problems that you will be faced with.  Not the two trains moving a x and y speed at each other, where do they meet type of question which is real world, but has no use in real life for most people.

More like, lets use algebra to manage a budget and figure out what your variance in for spending can be based on how much your utilities fluctuate. (just pulled that out of my ass, but something REAL WORLD for EVERYONE).

Or how to figure out your taxable income.  I really wish schools taught more about how taxes work, ya know, the real life stuff you need to know when you are an adult that no one teaches you.

Offline El Barto

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #16 on: March 30, 2016, 09:53:04 AM »
I started by measuring the frame and the pictures, and began with:  the number of pictures (unknown); the width of a picture (six inches); the number of spaces (one less than the number of pictures); the width of the spaces (unknown); the number of edges (2; essentially the "outermost spaces"); and the width of the edges.   So I made a formula:
6x+(x-1)y+2z=the width of the frame.   And solved from there.  (We set the spaces in between pictures at an inch, then decided the width of the edges would be an inch, and solved it down to five pictures, each spaced an inch apart).   She was blown away.   
Damn fine example of both of our points. I would have solved this using a completely different method, and it wouldn't have involved any variables and only a couple of numbers written on scratch paper. I never would have passed an algebra class that way (at least not when I was in school) despite being able to solve the problem. This is my concern. I agree with the notion that algebra teaches certain approaches to numbers that we should all understand, but I think there are other ways of learning the same skills that don't involve freaking quadratic equations. My hunch is that my method of solving your problem is actually quite similar to yours, but at the same time very different.

Here's my issue with the way mathematics are taught. My brain has some peculiar wiring (big surprise there). It causes certain roadblocks. I can't add simple numbers if they're presented horizontally. Stack them vertically and I can add/subtract huge numbers effortlessly. Moreover, what my right hand writes isn't necessarily what my brain processes, so every step I have to write down increases the likelihood of incorporating an error. This makes me completely incapable of doing long division. I can do the math, often times in my head, but writing it out turns the whole thing into a mess. This made me a D student in math, and that was largely charitable, as I couldn't do the examples the way they wanted it done. I would hope that's changed by now, and based on the common core discussion, I think I'd do much better nowadays. At the same time I'm very much of the opinion that there can certainly be better ways to instill the same knowledge we're talking about here than insisting on utilizing algebraic equations. That's why I think what the guy actually said has merit.
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Offline j

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #17 on: March 30, 2016, 10:00:07 AM »
I agree with what most have said about the relative importance of Algebra.  There are many more expendable disciplines we require every public school student to take classes in that could be done away with or replaced by more practical (or at least individualized) education.

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #18 on: March 30, 2016, 10:01:19 AM »
Here's my issue with the way mathematics are taught. My brain has some peculiar wiring (big surprise there). It causes certain roadblocks. I can't add simple numbers if they're presented horizontally. Stack them vertically and I can add/subtract huge numbers effortlessly. Moreover, what my right hand writes isn't necessarily what my brain processes, so every step I have to write down increases the likelihood of incorporating an error. This makes me completely incapable of doing long division. I can do the math, often times in my head, but writing it out turns the whole thing into a mess. This made me a D student in math, and that was largely charitable, as I couldn't do the examples the way they wanted it done. I would hope that's changed by now, and based on the common core discussion, I think I'd do much better nowadays. At the same time I'm very much of the opinion that there can certainly be better ways to instill the same knowledge we're talking about here than insisting on utilizing algebraic equations. That's why I think what the guy actually said has merit.

Isn't this also a problem with common core?  They want math taught an exact way, but the beauty of math is that there are many ways to solve a problem.  If one way makes sense and it easier for you, shouldn't you be allowed to use that method if it leads you to the correct answer?

Offline El Barto

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #19 on: March 30, 2016, 10:06:25 AM »
Here's my issue with the way mathematics are taught. My brain has some peculiar wiring (big surprise there). It causes certain roadblocks. I can't add simple numbers if they're presented horizontally. Stack them vertically and I can add/subtract huge numbers effortlessly. Moreover, what my right hand writes isn't necessarily what my brain processes, so every step I have to write down increases the likelihood of incorporating an error. This makes me completely incapable of doing long division. I can do the math, often times in my head, but writing it out turns the whole thing into a mess. This made me a D student in math, and that was largely charitable, as I couldn't do the examples the way they wanted it done. I would hope that's changed by now, and based on the common core discussion, I think I'd do much better nowadays. At the same time I'm very much of the opinion that there can certainly be better ways to instill the same knowledge we're talking about here than insisting on utilizing algebraic equations. That's why I think what the guy actually said has merit.

Isn't this also a problem with common core?  They want math taught an exact way, but the beauty of math is that there are many ways to solve a problem.  If one way makes sense and it easier for you, shouldn't you be allowed to use that method if it leads you to the correct answer?
Yes and no. It's a problem for the reason you and I have both mentioned; different strokes for different folks. It's not a problem for me because they're actually teaching math the way I can understand it, as opposed to the more rigid approach I was forced to conform to with terrible results. It's the rigidity that I'm on about, and while algebra does demonstrate how problems can be solved utilizing different approaches, it does so in a fairly concrete way. 
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Offline Stadler

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #20 on: March 30, 2016, 12:57:11 PM »

Here's my issue with the way mathematics are taught. My brain has some peculiar wiring (big surprise there). It causes certain roadblocks. I can't add simple numbers if they're presented horizontally. Stack them vertically and I can add/subtract huge numbers effortlessly. Moreover, what my right hand writes isn't necessarily what my brain processes, so every step I have to write down increases the likelihood of incorporating an error. This makes me completely incapable of doing long division. I can do the math, often times in my head, but writing it out turns the whole thing into a mess. This made me a D student in math, and that was largely charitable, as I couldn't do the examples the way they wanted it done. I would hope that's changed by now, and based on the common core discussion, I think I'd do much better nowadays. At the same time I'm very much of the opinion that there can certainly be better ways to instill the same knowledge we're talking about here than insisting on utilizing algebraic equations. That's why I think what the guy actually said has merit.

I understand that and agree.  I have blocks of my own ("8 times 7" I have to count on my fingers to this day, so for me it's "8 times 5 is 40, plus 8 is 48, plus 8 is 56").

I'm more worried about the simplification of the thought process in general.  We've become overly accustomed to simplification.  I worry that people can't assess situations anymore without removing too many variables.  The plain fact is, sometimes life problems operate in the three (or more) dimensions.   Just look at the other topics in this forum, where complex, intricate issues like "guns" and "healthcare" and "global economies" are dumbed down to "ban them", and "Obamacare" and "taxes!" with no comprehension that those things are just bricks in the wall of the topic we are discussing. 

Offline El Barto

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #21 on: March 30, 2016, 01:06:17 PM »

Here's my issue with the way mathematics are taught. My brain has some peculiar wiring (big surprise there). It causes certain roadblocks. I can't add simple numbers if they're presented horizontally. Stack them vertically and I can add/subtract huge numbers effortlessly. Moreover, what my right hand writes isn't necessarily what my brain processes, so every step I have to write down increases the likelihood of incorporating an error. This makes me completely incapable of doing long division. I can do the math, often times in my head, but writing it out turns the whole thing into a mess. This made me a D student in math, and that was largely charitable, as I couldn't do the examples the way they wanted it done. I would hope that's changed by now, and based on the common core discussion, I think I'd do much better nowadays. At the same time I'm very much of the opinion that there can certainly be better ways to instill the same knowledge we're talking about here than insisting on utilizing algebraic equations. That's why I think what the guy actually said has merit.

I understand that and agree.  I have blocks of my own ("8 times 7" I have to count on my fingers to this day, so for me it's "8 times 5 is 40, plus 8 is 48, plus 8 is 56").
:lol For me it's 8 times 10 minus 14.

And where I think we agree is that algebra is part of what allows us to view mathematics in that fluid state, where the answer is there regardless of the direction you come at it. I'm just thinking that there are plenty of ways to convey that which don't involve incorporating the God damned enigma code into the mix.
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Offline Cool Chris

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #22 on: March 30, 2016, 04:03:52 PM »
Can we at least all agree that algebra is much less unnecessary than, say, 18th century poetry?
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Offline Genowyn

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #23 on: March 30, 2016, 05:20:57 PM »
I think talking about what's "necessary" based on usefulness in the job market is missing the point of education in general. Education is supposed to be about expanding the mind and providing you with new ways to think about things.

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Offline Chino

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #24 on: March 30, 2016, 05:41:25 PM »
Can we at least all agree that algebra is much less unnecessary than, say, 18th century poetry?

I'll agree. I say let kids read whatever they want. Exposing them to words is more important than the stories. The source is irrelevant. When I was a kid, you couldn't pay me to read the books they required us to. If you handed me a Matt Christopher sports book, I'd finish it before putting it down.

Offline El Barto

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #25 on: March 30, 2016, 06:21:16 PM »
How many people in high school actually know what their career path is, and how many of those actually guessed right? I'm going to have to go with the more rounded education vs the one predicated on turning youngsters into successful wage slaves. Which, ironically, is exactly what we were discussing with regards to algebra. While there is a cutoff point where classical literature becomes pointless, Beowulf comes to mind, there's still a ton to be gained from much of it. Breaking Bad fans caught a glimpse of 18th century poetry not too long ago, and plenty of them actually understood the point of it. And how do you really develop critical thinking skills looking through history if you don't know the history in the first place?
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Offline El Barto

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #26 on: March 30, 2016, 07:24:13 PM »
That's he problem right there.  It isn't that people aren't sure which career to pick.  it is they are unaware of so many jobs beyond the basics.
Doesn't change the basic premise. Most people don't figure out what they want to do with their life until after they're out of school. Well rounded education wins out.

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Awesome.  Too bad the cable, net and/or Netflix bill didn't get paid with that knowledge so don't expect another episode like that.
It was awesome to plenty of us that think beyond the dollar value of all things in life. Moreover, producing television of that quality is insanely profitable, thanks in part to writers crafting such things and an audience able to appreciate them. Hell, maybe I'll ditch my current gig and take a job in television, where my passing familiarity with Shelly might be more useful than my current line.

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You misunderstand.  History is the just the vehicle.  You could make just about any subject an exercise in critical thinking.  So if you are on the path to software (app) development, there are plenty of possibilities to learn the same critical thinking skills.  Instead of a report comparing the Mongols to the Huns (as a very simple example), you can compare the benefits of operating system A&B or RAM (memory) speed v. HDD (now SSD) speed.  Perhaps the advantages of writing an app for the latest hardware & drivers v. the minimum requirements.
There's a linear aspect to history that might well be more useful in expanding one's ability to reason. Just like there's an abstract quality to poetry that might click with others. The beauty of history is that you can see thousands of years laid out, with the effects of decisions rippling downstream. One person fundamentally changed the way I think about pretty much everything by demonstrating (via a TV program) the nature of change as it plays out through history (and Byron/Shelly/Shelly factor into history quite a bit, as well).
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Offline Chino

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #27 on: March 30, 2016, 07:28:21 PM »
I'm 27 and still don't have a career picked out.

Offline El Barto

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #28 on: March 30, 2016, 10:12:49 PM »
And that would be stopped how?  We aren't talking about banning aspects of education.  We are talking about prioritizing and creating "programmed" courses.  You can dismiss it out of hand while at the same time complain about the current system.
I'm just fuzzy about how the programmed courses get distributed. Moreover, you seem to be prioritizing the programming based on future earning potential.

Look, I really don't think you and I are far apart on this. I think we both want people to get a useful, quality education. Neither of us think that a one size fits all approach is viable; the teaching to the lowest common denominator approach to which you refer. I think we're just differing on how targeted it should be. I just lean more towards the classical education; turn out intelligent people functional in a variety of areas so they have capabilities in whateverthehell they decide to do. You seem to be favoring a more practical, targeted approach. I don't really have a problem with that; though it's not my choice it's perfectly valid. It's just going to create some areas where we differ on priorities.
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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #29 on: March 31, 2016, 02:32:50 AM »
Khan Academy saved my butt for my Theoretical Physics exam this year. He's got awesome videos on the more complex mathematical stuff, like differential equations and surface integrals.
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Offline portnoy311

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #30 on: March 31, 2016, 04:08:29 AM »
I just used Matlab yesterday to program an interpolation of 3d points, and create a surface estimation of a figure. It is incredibly useful for doing stuff like that that would be near impossible with pen and paper. It's basically a programming tool.

You'll get nowhere as a software developer / engineer if you don't have strong math skills. Hell, figuring out and minimizing the big O of an algorithm is one of the most important skills and it basically has to be done in one's head.


Edit: I'm apparently a page behind. 

Offline Stadler

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #31 on: March 31, 2016, 04:16:38 PM »
Can we at least all agree that algebra is much less unnecessary than, say, 18th century poetry?

I'll agree. I say let kids read whatever they want. Exposing them to words is more important than the stories. The source is irrelevant. When I was a kid, you couldn't pay me to read the books they required us to. If you handed me a Matt Christopher sports book, I'd finish it before putting it down.

Eh... there's a degree to which the stories ARE important.  I think we learn a lot - or rather CAN learn a lot - about humanity and human nature by what we read.  Now, I'll agree that the selected choices aren't always what they should be, but I will make my kid read a certain number of the classics if her school doesn't  (Any Dickens is on there, "Anna Karenina", "Crime and Punishment", "The Outsiders", etc.).

I don't think education is perfect, but I think it's better than most give it credit for (I'm not talking about "Common Core", I'm talking about general ideas).   I get the idea of "I can't relate to that", but that's the point to some work.  I think someone saying "the curriculum should be tailored to my experience" is just as wrong as saying "well, I believe 2+2=14, so let's make it so".  I have to read a ton of shit I can't relate to and/or don't connect with, but that's why they pay me the big bucks, because I figure out a way to power through that and still comprehend at a high level. 

Offline Stadler

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #32 on: March 31, 2016, 04:19:27 PM »
How many people in high school actually know what their career path is, and how many of those actually guessed right? I'm going to have to go with the more rounded education vs the one predicated on turning youngsters into successful wage slaves. Which, ironically, is exactly what we were discussing with regards to algebra. While there is a cutoff point where classical literature becomes pointless, Beowulf comes to mind, there's still a ton to be gained from much of it. Breaking Bad fans caught a glimpse of 18th century poetry not too long ago, and plenty of them actually understood the point of it. And how do you really develop critical thinking skills looking through history if you don't know the history in the first place?

BOOM.  This is gospel to me.  I just had this very conversation with my 15 year old daughter.   She was upset she didn't know what she wanted to do, and I said exactly this:  you may not know, perhaps you SHOULDN'T know (because of lack of experience).  Just make choices that keep as many doors open as possible (this is in part why I went to law school).    Learn as much as you can regardless of whether you think you will use it. 

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #33 on: March 31, 2016, 04:21:41 PM »
el Barto, tell me more, please, about the Beowulf/Breaking Bad reference?  I haven't gotten it yet (or just don't remember).

Offline El Barto

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Re: Is algebra an unnecessary stumbling block in US schools?
« Reply #34 on: March 31, 2016, 07:29:51 PM »
el Barto, tell me more, please, about the Beowulf/Breaking Bad reference?  I haven't gotten it yet (or just don't remember).
It wasn't Beowulf. It was Shelly. One of the final episodes was titled Ozymandias. Appropriate as Walts empire was collapsing in the desert. I'd mentioned Beowulf as an example of literature becoming so archaic that it no longer has any meaning. You can read Ozymandias and still appreciate it (if you're into that sort of thing). Shakespere takes some effort but is still understandable (and great). Beowulf might as well be a recipe for biscuits written in ancient Klingon. When it gets to the point that the words have been replaced with modern translation, then the only think you have left is the subject matter, and I'm not sure Beowulf is worth teaching in that context. Plenty of even older things have been translated that actually have genuine value.
Argument, the presentation of reasonable views, never makes headway against conviction, and conviction takes no part in argument because it knows.
E.F. Benson