Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Dumbing Down Of American Children Continues In Earnest


You must read this article from the New York Times!
I don't even know where to begin on this unbelievable argument against teaching Algebra in school.
It is bad enough that children are not required to know basic Geometry and how to perform Geometric proofs anymore.
We've ditched analogies and understanding sentence construction (diagramming) as well.
Spelling.. well, inventive spelling or just being able to "get the idea across" seems adequate.;
Now it seems Algebra is on the academic hit list.

The writer, who happens to be a CUNY college professor (emeritus), believes that higher mathematics is a stumbling block to many - that it isn't ever used in the jobs people eventually get and that it's basically worthless to many people. He says it's just too difficult for people to master... so why bother at all. He says:
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.

My question extends beyond algebra and applies more broadly to the usual mathematics sequence, from geometry through calculus. State regents and legislators — and much of the public — take it as self-evident that every young person should be made to master polynomial functions and parametric equations.

There are many defenses of algebra and the virtue of learning it. Most of them sound reasonable on first hearing; many of them I once accepted. But the more I examine them, the clearer it seems that they are largely or wholly wrong — unsupported by research or evidence, or based on wishful logic. (I’m not talking about quantitative skills, critical for informed citizenship and personal finance, but a very different ballgame.)

This debate matters. Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent. In the interest of maintaining rigor, we’re actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources. ...

Algebra is an onerous stumbling block for all kinds of students: disadvantaged and affluent, black and white. In New Mexico, 43 percent of white students fell below “proficient,” along with 39 percent in Tennessee. Even well-endowed schools have otherwise talented students who are impeded by algebra, to say nothing of calculus and trigonometry.

California’s two university systems, for instance, consider applications only from students who have taken three years of mathematics and in that way exclude many applicants who might excel in fields like art or history. Community college students face an equally prohibitive mathematics wall. A study of two-year schools found that fewer than a quarter of their entrants passed the algebra classes they were required to take. ...

It’s true that students in Finland, South Korea and Canada score better on mathematics tests. But it’s their perseverance, not their classroom algebra, that fits them for demanding jobs.

Nor is it clear that the math we learn in the classroom has any relation to the quantitative reasoning we need on the job. John P. Smith III, an educational psychologist at Michigan State University who has studied math education, has found that “mathematical reasoning in workplaces differs markedly from the algorithms taught in school.” Even in jobs that rely on so-called STEM credentials — science, technology, engineering, math — considerable training occurs after hiring, including the kinds of computations that will be required. Toyota, for example, recently chose to locate a plant in a remote Mississippi county, even though its schools are far from stellar. It works with a nearby community college, which has tailored classes in “machine tool mathematics.”

That sort of collaboration has long undergirded German apprenticeship programs. I fully concur that high-tech knowledge is needed to sustain an advanced industrial economy. But we’re deluding ourselves if we believe the solution is largely academic. ...

Of course, people should learn basic numerical skills: decimals, ratios and estimating, sharpened by a good grounding in arithmetic. But a definitive analysis by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce forecasts that in the decade ahead a mere 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra or above. And if there is a shortage of STEM graduates, an equally crucial issue is how many available positions there are for men and women with these skills. A January 2012 analysis from the Georgetown center found 7.5 percent unemployment for engineering graduates and 8.2 percent among computer scientists.

Peter Braunfeld of the University of Illinois tells his students, “Our civilization would collapse without mathematics.” He’s absolutely right.

Algebraic algorithms underpin animated movies, investment strategies and airline ticket prices. And we need people to understand how those things work and to advance our frontiers. ...

What of the claim that mathematics sharpens our minds and makes us more intellectually adept as individuals and a citizen body? It’s true that mathematics requires mental exertion. But there’s no evidence that being able to prove (x² + y²)² = (x² - y²)² + (2xy)² leads to more credible political opinions or social analysis.

Many of those who struggled through a traditional math regimen feel that doing so annealed their character. This may or may not speak to the fact that institutions and occupations often install prerequisites just to look rigorous — hardly a rational justification for maintaining so many mathematics mandates. Certification programs for veterinary technicians require algebra, although none of the graduates I’ve met have ever used it in diagnosing or treating their patients. Medical schools like Harvard and Johns Hopkins demand calculus of all their applicants, even if it doesn’t figure in the clinical curriculum, let alone in subsequent practice. Mathematics is used as a hoop, a badge, a totem to impress outsiders and elevate a profession’s status.

It’s not hard to understand why Caltech and M.I.T. want everyone to be proficient in mathematics. But it’s not easy to see why potential poets and philosophers face a lofty mathematics bar. Demanding algebra across the board actually skews a student body, not necessarily for the better.

I WANT to end on a positive note. Mathematics, both pure and applied, is integral to our civilization, whether the realm is aesthetic or electronic. But for most adults, it is more feared or revered than understood. It’s clear that requiring algebra for everyone has not increased our appreciation of a calling someone once called “the poetry of the universe.” (How many college graduates remember what Fermat’s dilemma was all about?)

Instead of investing so much of our academic energy in a subject that blocks further attainment for much of our population, I propose that we start thinking about alternatives. Thus mathematics teachers at every level could create exciting courses in what I call “citizen statistics.” This would not be a backdoor version of algebra, as in the Advanced Placement syllabus. Nor would it focus on equations used by scholars when they write for one another. Instead, it would familiarize students with the kinds of numbers that describe and delineate our personal and public lives.

It could, for example, teach students how the Consumer Price Index is computed, what is included and how each item in the index is weighted — and include discussion about which items should be included and what weights they should be given.

This need not involve dumbing down. Researching the reliability of numbers can be as demanding as geometry. More and more colleges are requiring courses in “quantitative reasoning.” In fact, we should be starting that in kindergarten.

I hope that mathematics departments can also create courses in the history and philosophy of their discipline, as well as its applications in early cultures. Why not mathematics in art and music — even poetry — along with its role in assorted sciences? The aim would be to treat mathematics as a liberal art, making it as accessible and welcoming as sculpture or ballet. If we rethink how the discipline is conceived, word will get around and math enrollments are bound to rise. It can only help. ...

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.

Oh my goodness!
Let's treat Mathematics like a Liberal Art?
Yes, let's dumb it down like when we turned Civics and Geography into "Social Studies", and now American children cannot even locate their own state on a map! Nor do they understand the difference between Democracy and a Republic, or Socialism vs Capitalism.

Yes, probably if you get a job that doesn't require you to think in a logical manner or be able to understand how to solve problems or how numbers, shapes and calculations can be manipulated, yes, I suppose it's just a worthless exercise. A dumbed down populace will have no need for understanding the logic behind any calculation. They just need to know how to follow directions from those above them.

Why learn Algebra? It'll only make you overqualified for the jobs that will be left over after all the educated people from overseas have taken the good jobs in this country. You don't need Algebra to press a button that has a picture on it if you are a cashier at a fast food restaurant.

Sure, let's dumb down the population's understanding of Mathematics so that when the government feeds them a statistic they will just blindly believe it. Let's just make learning Mathematics a "need to know" endeavor. In fact, people shouldn't learn anything about what they won't use in life. Why should anyone learn about British History or Whales or Frog Anatomy? Those are tough subjects and of not much use to anyone now-a-days. It can be argued that I never should have learned anything about Marine Biology since I am not a Marine Biologist. And this is how absurd the writer's argument is.

Reading this article just made my blood boil.
And it is yet another reason why parents need to homeschool their children.. for it appears that government schools will continue to whittle away at the necessary elements of education that create people that can think logically, compute, design, understand and gain understanding from history.

The writer does not even address the problem of the lack of qualified educators. Perhaps children aren't grasping mathematical concepts like Algebra because their teachers suck! Don't even get me started on the garbage that passes as "curriculum" or textbooks!

Heaven forbid we give our children some challenging material to master..; especially if those children happen to be poor, disadvantaged and from difficult family circumstances.

Who needs Algebra?
Anyone who wants to be educated.
That's who.


5 comments:

Anonymous said...

My eldest daughter, who I made take algebra over again because she didn't "get it", said "woohoo, she's right algebra is important!"
-Johnna

Anonymous said...

I loved Algebra in high school. When I took geometry I truely thought I must be a genius and could have invented this it was so intuitive and obvious. I loved my 2 years of calculus in college. My bachelors degree in computer science was in the math department of my college so I am a mere 7 credits shy of a degree in math. Now I am 69 retired for a few year. I worked in my field for over 45 years. I never needed any of my high school or college math. I did program in scientific languages on computers intended for science/math. However it is no more difficult then plugging in the formula into the language you are programming in. I wouldn't have changed anything in my education BUT I never needed the math and I was in a field based on math. High school should certainly offer higher math (and foreign languages) but not make it mandatory. 90% of high school graduates will never use it

Anonymous said...

As a philosopher and carpenter, I can definitively say that calculus was the most influential class I took in high school, and I use the lessons I learned there every day in both roles.

Settling for mediocrity in one area lowers the bar for all the others.

Judy Aron said...

Ah... but you DID use Algebra.. maybe not in the calculations that you did but in the way you were taught by it to think logically.

Anonymous said...

Yes and no! I don't think Algebra necessarily teaches you logical thinking but rather people who think logically love algebra. About half or slightly less of students will never learn algebra. We can force them to take the classes and repeat until they finally pass but they do NOT learn it. I believe it is the classic mistake that educators make, i.e. that taking a class (algebra, foriegn language, poetry) changes you and has similar effects on everyone. In fact it is the opposite, that is those who's talents lean towards a particular skill (math, language, writing, etc.) are bouyed up and encouraged by a formal exposure to these things, but for most others it is merely boring and pushes them away from a formal education. A better approach would be to encourage students who excel or enjoy a subject to follow that desire but not to make every student take those same classes just to satisfy a belief that everyone should take a class or that everyone benefits from it.