Friday, February 17, 2006

Warning - algebra ahead!

The Presurfer brought to my attention an article on the Washington Post's website: What Is the Value of Algebra?. I started to post a comment on the Presurfer's blog, and then realized that it had grown into a full-blown blog entry on its own. Here it is:

Mr. Cohen, stop giving out bad advice.

Some people go through life without using a screwdriver, too, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't benefit from one. Perhaps they're just really good at getting butterknives to work instead. Perhaps they have a friend with a tool kit. It's just that a screwdriver is built for a particular job, is best-suited for certain things, and is a good thing to know how to use.

Have you ever gone to McDonald's with five dollars and figured out how many burgers and fries you can buy off of the value menu, including tax? That's algebra.

Have you ever paid bills, and tried to figure how much you need to pay toward the credit card in order to pay it off by the end of the year? That's algebra.

Have you ever tried to estimate how much farther you can drive before needing to fill your gas tank? That's algebra, too.

Algebra is nothing more than math. Remember the worksheets from grade school, with 1 + 1 = ___ ? That's the basis of algebra. That's it. It's that easy.

Some people see the word 'algebra' and start freaking out. They don't realize that in a commercial society, they've been brought up to use it every day of their lives. They just get hung up on the idea that numbers and letters don't mix, and assume that they'll never figure it out.

Maybe algebra isn't important in everybody's life. Maybe it shouldn't be a requirement. But maybe giving up on it is counterproductive. We need to recognize that every adult (who is responsible for their own life) will at some point use it, whether they realize it or not.

And we need to recognize that just because one person cannot see value in a concept, does not make the concept valueless. Shame on you, Mr. Cohen. If you wish to live your life in ignorance, that's fine. But please, don't advocate condemning our children to the same fate.

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