The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

More Reasons Why Algebra Should Not be Required

on July 12, 2017

As you can see at the bottom of Monday’s post, it received three positive comments.  One of them, contributed by Doug Garnett, included a reference to an article on the same topic as the one I reported on: “Is Algebra Necessary?” by Andrew Hacker, published in “The New York Times”in 2012.  Because that article was stronger and better written than the one I referred to,   I will post some quotes from it here that may send you back to the original so you can read everything Hacker has to say.


I want to end on a positive note. Mathematics, both pure and applied, is integral to our civilization, whether the realm is aesthetic or electronic. But for most adults, it is more feared or revered than understood. It’s clear that requiring algebra for everyone has not increased our appreciation of a calling someone once called “the poetry of the universe.” (How many college graduates remember what Fermat’s dilemma was all about?)

Instead of investing so much of our academic energy in a subject that blocks further attainment for much of our population, I propose that we start thinking about alternatives. Thus mathematics teachers at every level could create exciting courses in what I call “citizen statistics.” This would not be a backdoor version of algebra, as in the Advanced Placement syllabus. Nor would it focus on equations used by scholars when they write for one another. Instead, it would familiarize students with the kinds of numbers that describe and delineate our personal and public lives.

Yes, young people should learn to read and write and do long division, whether they want to or not. But there is no reason to force them to grasp vectorial angles and discontinuous functions. Think of math as a huge boulder we make everyone pull, without assessing what all this pain achieves. So why require it, without alternatives or exceptions? Thus far I haven’t found a compelling answer.

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