Great. Another Non-Math Person Complaining About Algebra.

Jose Vilson Education, Resources

Holy cow, Andrew Hacker. Shut up!

OK, that was a bit harsh. Warranted, but harsh. Say what you want to, but lower your voice a few decibels. Frankly, I didn’t care much for your rhetorical question, but you had to write it in the New York Times, adding a semblance of legitimacy (if not outrage) to your argument against teaching abstract math to kids. The crux of your argument, that we shouldn’t teach algebra except to those of us who want to get deeper into the math and that we should instead focus on useful life math, whatever that means. I won’t spend time debunking any of your claims because Dan Willingham did so rather convincingly today.

Rather, I’ll ask: if we taught the humanities (presumably English, arts, and yes, political science) in the same way you’re suggesting for math, how would that look like?

If you’re OK with English and language arts taught this way, then let’s focus 100% fully on non-fiction texts … like “How To Operate Your VCR” and “The Intricacies of Setting Up Your Passport.” Useful, and often complicated, these texts would surely be of worth post-college, especially for kids who never get out there. They’d have no need for Jon Steinbeck, William Shakespeare, or Julia Alvarez; their texts aren’t very relevant to what students actually encounter on a daily basis, so we’d leave it alone in the hopes that they don’t have to think abstractly.

If you’re OK with political science taught “with relevance,” you’d teach them about a few politicians here and there, their initiatives, and ow the media views the two prominent candidates. You’d never have to discuss political ideology, how bills are created, and about the Electoral College. About 58% of citizens of voting age actually vote anyways, and they don’t use with strategy in mind, but their message, and how their favorite news channel views the candidate. They’d never see The Federalist Papers, or the Emancipation Proclamation; all people need to know is that they’re free … so long as they’re not imprisoned. It doesn’t matter anyways, because that’s not very useful to the everyday citizen. Just the ones it affects.

If you’re OK with the arts taught this way, then … we wouldn’t have use for the arts, really. Unless you show a gravitation towards creativity early on in age, then everyone should get to paint the fruit basket with the shadow to show a level of mastery in the arts until they get to college.

Most math pedagogues would agree that we need to reexamine the way we approach math for our students, especially those who get taught math as a way of passing the deluge of tests at the end of the year. But you didn’t see that, Hacker. You chose instead to spew what I’m dubbing a humanities elitism that perpetuates attitudes this culture espouses about math. If you’re not interested in math, that’s really up to you, but don’t call for a disbanding of math if you don’t want anything to do with math. Instead, join us in saying that we need to infuse more mathematics into the socio-cultural discussion of civilization.

Because that’s a much more compelling argument. Every civilization’s greatest contributions involved math, from the architecture to medicine, fostering a love of math meant having an understanding of how society’s form, whether abstractly or otherwise. Don’t be the loser who asks us to dummy the math down to “usefulness.” Be a voice that asks us to transform the teaching of math.

Jose, who strives for relevance as a teacher …