Thursday, July 25, 2013

I Use Algebra. You Use Algebra. We All Use Algebra.

This is shamelessly copied from a friend's Facebook status, where she linked to an article about the Common Core:

I am not against national standards. I am completely against mandating that every student must meet every standard. I would like to see MCL come in and states be allowed to work with universities,community colleges, labor unions, and trades experts, to develop standards for "customized diplomas". Students could then be free to take courses in high school that would support their career goals and interests. Not every kid needs algebra, chemistry, physics and other classes. I have not used algebra, other than teaching it, since I left high school. Let's teach kids what they need to know. Let's be thoughtful about implementation.

This is what I wrote in response:

I agree with you except for one major point: you DO use algebra, and I'd say without question that you use it every day. Every time you try to figure out a numeric answer, that's algebra. You use it to figure out sale prices, recipe quantities ... even if you're counting how many things you have compared to how many you need, you're using algebra. All algebra is, is solving for an unknown. Do you use the traditional topics covered in Algebra 2 every day? Quadratics, graphing, so forth? No. And that's what I think you likely meant when you said you don't use algebra. Even a kid making change from a drawer is using algebra, even if it's so automatic they don't realize it.

I believe very firmly two things: 1. Every student needs to have a working comfort with solving equations and basic linear graphing, along with a fundamental understanding of percentages and exponents; and 2. NOT every student needs to get through Algebra 2. Rather, we need a "mathematics in real life" class that comes after Geometry and which covers the math one needs to live and be "math-literate." (Things such as interest, slope, rates, percentages, basic statistics, etc.)

Please, please, PLEASE don't be one of the people who says they don't use Algebra. Because you do. And when people say that, it perpetuates a falsity about what we do and what students need to know. Instead, please say that you don't use "upper-level Algebra," and help people to understand the distinction. Maybe when enough people realize that Algebra 2 is not really necessary to be a math-literate adult, we'll be rid of the foolish requirement that "all kids take it." But for as long as we continue to make blanket statements like "I don't use algebra," we will continue to give educrats fodder to say we are wrong (because in a very real sense, we are), and that they "know better," and we'll be stuck with this awful "everyone can do everything" nonsense we have now.

I've been busy with the bar exam studying (or procrastinating) lately, so I have a few posts roughly framed but hardly pretty enough to post.  More after Tuesday.  In the meantime, this was something I had to get out.  Thanks for letting me.


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