32 votes

NYT Asks, "Is Algebra Necessary?"

The dumbing down of America continues? Or a good argument?

[NYT] - 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.

Continue at the NYT

Trending on the Web

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Totally Agreed

I like what you said:

"That's what mathematics is - our abstract logical and symbolic..." and

"All those individuals in the past 1000 years who have "discovered" and passed onto us Algebra, Geometry, Calculus, etc, were geniuses.

Do we really want to downplay it - or at the worse - wave it off?"

Very good point. Those geniuses got us to where our civilization is today, and then from the top of the mountain they built, we yell "this stuff is worthless" hahaha.

What I see is that everyone wants to BLAME SOMEONE. "It is the government's fault, it is the teachers' fault..."

But when 2 generations of parents spout the things we are hearing, even in this thread, in our favorite forum, that "Math is useless, you will only need to add and subtract," the kids adopt this viewpoint; and this viewpoint is ONE OF THE EASIEST to maintain, because it requires no work, no thinking, just point a finger.

Well said...


Algebra is limited in use

first of all its not easy, second of all not everyone needs to learn it and third most of the teachers can't teach it well which makes doing well in that class hard for most people. same goes for Calculus and math in general, if your not going into certain fields you don't need to learn anything higher than basic or intermediate math.

in my school they had football and other sport coaches teach which were terrible and its also wasn't easy for me to get either without tutoring from a neighbor of mine who was a math wiz.

Why should we be surprised

that the NYT and establishment media is bent on further dumbing down the American public and removing any gleam of critical thinking from their consumers? Only the lazy and brainless would consider this a good idea, and sure enough the NYTimes readers are buying into it. This sets up the downfall perfectly for them. First destroy respect for the constitution, then degenerate critical thinking, finally there will be bread and circus. I doubt we'll even have enough for bread. Algebra isn't history, economics, or poli-sci. You can't brain wash a kid in an algebra class. Math doesn't care for our passions, biases, and political differences.

The author of the piece is either self-hating (due to their own ignorance of algebra) or evil.

"I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself." - Thomas Jefferson

reedr3v's picture

Replacement of critical thinking skills with

Outcome-Based behavior modification has been going on a long time in public ed. Good discussion here: http://schoolsucks.podomatic.com/player/web/2012-07-23T14_09...

Not sure

I can't answer whether algebra is necessary or not because there are NO PRICE SIGNALS.

Let the market decide. Abolish socialist education.

"You must be frank with the world; frankness is the child of honesty and courage...Never do anything wrong to make a friend or keep one...Above all do not appear to others what you are not" - Robert E. Lee, CSA


CSA1861, yours is the best comment on this topic I've read so far and one of the best comments I think I've ever read.

THAT is the EXACT way to find out how important algebra is for who and how many -abolish forced learning, forced tax payer funded "education." Me personally, I could've used to learn a LOT of other things besides algebra for the role I now try to fulfill -learning and skills that the government system failed(and still miserably fails to provide.) There is no attempt at making even the slightest distinction between the sexes as far as subject matter, not to mention the whole lumping everyone altogether. It's been an awful, awful experiment that we can hope and pray is replaced by something equitable, linked to the free market. But with money like the Gates' propping it up...we need more people working to help truly educate people on why we should and how we can replace it.

I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war. Ps 120:7
Better to be divided by truth than united in error.
"I am the door." -Jesus Christ

This No Child Left Behind...

mentality must stop. I've been in education nearly my entire life - both on the receiving end and the giving end.

I'm involved in the sciences, and anyone that tried to pursue the path I did would be at a significant disadvantage if algebra and other maths were unavailable in schools - public or private - and people wouldn't take it if it wasn't mandatory - even those that will use it heavily.

Failure is an important part of a free market system. It is an indicator that maybe persons or entities should either take a different approach or move on to a more productive endeavor. Failure helps properly allocate human capital.

Just because one person is not good at math, that doesn't mean it should be removed so that person can feel better about themselves at the expense of the knowledge of others - because that's what it boils down to.

I find I have far more uses for algebra than for the NYT,

not having any birds as pets.

I'm surprised

It took me a while to catch that. I almost forgot news sometimes comes in paper form.

You're probably a lot younger than some of us geezers

whose first job was delivering a newspaper.

Probably Right.

I'm 29. Received the paper as a kid, but never delivered it.

You title was funny

but the body of your comment resulted in 'spillage' on the keyboard and monitor! Thnx


It is overrated, when does the average person even use math in everday life today? Besides counting one dollar bills at a strip joint. lol

Heck with tablets all we do is touch the screens anyway and get our 'treats'.

Printing and writing are also not necessary.

Billions could be saved and many teachers removed to eliminate these educational programs. I don't even think teachers know math or english to the required degree imo. They are just on a form of 'welfare' like much of the military contractors.

If printing and math are something they are interested they should go to a private school or be home schooled imo.


Math is important

Math is logic.
The problem is we teach memorization, and not the logic.
Math is nothing more than a fundamental set of theorems. We do not teach the theorems until after the kids already hate math.


What we need is more common sense. Look where all this supposed logic has gotten us. Apart from electronic gadgets, I don't see much else. Certainly financial and monetary math logic is not something to brag about.

What person actually remembers any mathematical formual besides ...

a2 + b2 = c2? What is the formula of a straight line? I recall it is y=mx+b?

Formulas and theorems can be pulled off the web now with little effort and one just has to plug the values in.

Any teenager can do this but I do appreciate your comment on the theorems.

Concepts fine, these can be explained in college.

The major problems are that hardly anyone knows any thing about history, law, languages, and faith, for example. In essence these are the foundations of a cohesive and peaceful and prospering political jurisdiction. With this established, bridges, roads, sewers, structures, mechinization, science, can all be built upon and always come along later.

The bottom line is that kids use to be much smarter before ie. composing music and learning many languages and even biological sciences at a very young age before they knew much about math.

Math is not very creative and dulls the senses imo. There is much memory in math and unfortunately the teachers don't give you any clue to what in heavens you are calculating. ie. solve for this ...and????

I look back at it and after getting all the correct answers, I have no idea what the answers represented in many cases. So what if people simplified a bunch of quadratic equations, what the hell does this got to do with anything but repetition.


Teaching children logic...

...would result in them realizing that the entire system imposed upon them is illogical.

Algebra problem

In July 2003, the NY Times company NYT traded at $45/share. In July 2012 (108 months later), NYT trades at $7.80/share. Assuming a linear trend over time, how long will it be until the market finds no value at all in their entire stupid company?

Define no value. I'm already 'finding' that.


In other words, it's 1259.8 BTU/LBM steam @ 600 PSIG, 807 degF. This from the statistics added to an office position. At the time, it became learn or leave.

Kick it up a notch........

Array formulas


Alternative to H/VLookUp




45-7.8 = 37.2 dollars loss so far\108 months = .34 of a dollar loss every month.
7.8\.34 = 22.9 months until value is 0!
so in about a year and 11 months!

You are correct

in an algebraic sense. But the real answer is "not soon enough".

that's assuming a linear trend

most likely the government will bail them out and prevent this from happening.

"I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself." - Thomas Jefferson

The only reason why students

The only reason why students are struggling with Algebra is because of the terrible education system at each grade level.

If kids were able to grasp basic mathematics from an early age... when they get to Algebra, it would be very simple. Instead of SKIPPING ALGEBRA, the schools should put MORE emphasis on the basic math concepts and work to teach those concepts in DIFFERENT ways to DIFFERENT students.

Instead basic math is rushed at early grade levels, taught 1 way to 30 different, unique students... and those who understand that 1 way of teaching succeed and the rest struggle with mathematics for the rest of their lives.

It's the teachers that suck at teaching algebra

not all teachers are bad. But the one's who are (and it's most of them) are destroying our country.

"I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself." - Thomas Jefferson

Well said

Here's the NYT appealing to dumb down the education system that perpetually fails us.


were in trouble... big big trouble

Yes, it's necessary.

I am amazed this is even being considered - 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.

Is that statement a form of doublespeak?

The law cannot make a wicked person virtuous…God’s grace alone can accomplish such a thing.
Ron Paul - The Revolution

Setting a good example is a far better way to spread ideals than through force of arms. Ron Paul

The sad thing is

most people already agree with this poisoned perspective.

"I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself." - Thomas Jefferson

Math has always been very

Math has always been very difficult for me, and, I tell you, when I ran a business there were SEVERAL times I wished I had remembered algebra. It really comes up a LOT when you need to find a value for x. I wish I could have grasped it, better. I, also, never thought it was that necessary and I found out I was WRONG.