Um, Yes Actually, We Should Learn Hard Math

Andrew Hacker has written a mind-numbingly inane Op-Ed for the New York Times, entitled “Is Algebra Necessary?”, in which he opines:

A typical American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I’ve found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn’t.


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.

Can I just highlight the absurdly self-centered fallacy of Hacker’s perspective? I would love to hear the logical contortions this “writer and social scientist” might present if I asked him why I should have been required to learn history, literature, government, and the arts if I was in school to be an engineer. I can think of no concrete argument (taking Hacker’s premises as the foundation) which could possibly justify why any of these subjects should be necessary for technical professions.

Maybe I missed something, but I thought the whole point of education was to expose us to new ideas and make us well-rounded citizens, prepared to critically analyze the information being presented to us, reflect on our role and potential in society, and be able choose among many paths later in life. Hacker seems to have a more short-term and utilitarian view of the purpose of schooling; one that I find blindly compartmentalizing and reductionist.

I’ve gotta hand it to him though — lowering your standards to the point where they are already met is a pretty effective method of removing things that are hard from your life.

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