Are we trying to minimize or maximize potential?


Recently, several articles claim that students don’t need to learn Algebra, or at least they ponder the question of what the point  is of learning Algebra, being that some believe today there is too much emphasis on math and science, STEM skills and learning.

I am loathe to comment on this idea, just not to give it more air time, and as a result give it credibility. Many of you may like this idea. Perhaps you had difficulty understanding math and being successful with it. My thought about that is not to take algebra away, but to teach it differently. The instruction, which can be very black and white, needs to be diverse, just as the learners. It needs to relate to practical applications.

The idea of giving up on learners distresses me, giving up on the need to enhance cognitive development because mathematics may be difficult for some. I disagree with the stated idea that many don’t use Algebra, so why teach it. Much Mathematics, Algebra in particular, teaches numerical functions, proportions, logical thinking, etc. It teaches abstract reasoning and problem solving. In daily life, decisions about money, how much you have and how much you need, concerns with income and taxes all are solved through algebra. One of the proponents of “no Algebra” says most people don’t need to use abstract reasoning. So, do we want more people not using abstract reasoning to make decisions, predictions?  Are these the people we want doing jobs that affect everyone and making important decisions?  Is it fair to send students out into the world less equipped with fewer problem solving skills? Are we answering the need of falling behind in the world in math and science by “dumbing down” how we teach – or IF we teach-MATH? Is this idea not elitist? Only let the smart people learn!!!

So much for problem solving and critical thinking, both primary components of a valid 21st century education. Math needs to be taught differently and give up on its easy-to-assess status. Problems that actually use and apply concepts need to be a part of the equation. Experiential learning must show the practical use of math in every day life and work related activities. Math is not just an abstract mental game. It has real use and meaning. I understand that it is difficult for some to learn and understand. So why not find alternative ways to represent it? Show tangibly why things are the way they are. Have you ever changed proportions in a recipe? Do you need to know how financial markets work-your mortgage interest?

So do I think STEM is overrated?  NO.  There is no doubt we need STEM education. Our country must engage in innovation and creativity. Mathematics and STEM skills are tools for this commitment. What do the critics of teaching algebra expect these students to do for work? Do we really, as a nation, want to condone math for only people who immediately get it?    

Read for yourself. This is theWashington Post blog by Valerie Strauss and the original query by Dr. Andrew Hacker in the NY Times. One more article on the subject Algebra, Zakaria and Lady Gaga by Patricia McGuire.

Categories: algebra, critical thinking, Education reform, math, Mathematics eduction, STEAM, Uncategorized

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