The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Does Everyone Need to Learn Algebra and Science?

on May 25, 2018

Today’s piece originated from my own experience as I grow older. Like many others my age I have strong opinions about what younger people should know and do, and lots of scorn for the no-nothings running our schools today.

Watching a TV show called Jeopardy is always a humbling experience for me.  Although I am an educated person who still reads a lot, I can’t answer most of the questions posed on that show, even ones in my own field of English literature. Sometimes it is a matter of recalling too slowly, but more often it’s drawing a complete blank about things I should remember.

Even though I’m used to my Jeopardy incompetence, another experience a few weeks ago really jolted me.  While helping my grandson with his homework, I realized that I can’t do algebra anymore, a subject I studied in both high school and college and earned decent grades for. All I can figure out is that since Algebra has not been part of my professional work or my personal life, it has slipped out of my mind to make room for the skills and knowledge I still needed to use.

Strangely enough, what bothers me more than my own memory loss, is that most of today’s young people will eventually find themselves in the same boat for the same reasons.  When you consider all the time and effort they put into math and science in high school that loss is a disgrace. Not to those students, but to the high schools that never give them a choice of different classes that would have been more appropriate for their abilities and interests.

Every excuse I’ve heard from school officials is that math and science classes are necessary for clear thinking and success in the world. They don’t recognize that those courses were instituted in American schools at times when only the children of wealthy or powerful families went on to high school in preparation for college. Many political leaders also feel that our schools must continue to compete with Europian schools where those classes are still standard .

While writing about my own opinions I also stopped to read some articles by math and science experts to see what they would say about those school courses.  What I found was that most of them disagree with me because they deeply value the knowledge and power that grow out of such courses and still believe that all students  should  acquire them.

Despite those viewpoints, I am convinced that the courses should be electives. Vast numbers of  people live in a different world from the scientists, doctors, and planatarians. Just as some people grow food or raise animals, others write, create music or poetry, and many others work to keep the rest of us warm, informed, and safe.  We all have important roles in our lives and are as much  needed as those who work with numbers, telescopes, or chemicals.  Our world operates on the knowledge and skills of many different types of people, and when any of them falters we are the worse for it.


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