In recent years, arguments against the need for secondary school students to learn mathematics, including algebra, have gained traction. Hacker (2012) questions the importance of algebra in high school students’ future careers, claiming that it restricts the development of their skills. Algebra, and mathematics in general, according to opponents, is the reason why many students fail to graduate from secondary school, owing to its difficulty and apparent unnecessary complexity. They cite examples of people who excel in the humanities being denied admission to universities and colleges because of poor algebra grades, robbing them of their dream school.
Hacker argued that math is “a huge boulder we make everyone pull, without assessing what all this pain achieves. So why require it, without alternatives or exceptions?” He further claimed that there are no compelling arguments for him to be proven wrong. He even remarked that despite the crucial role of mathematics in the development of modern society, it nevertheless imparts fear more than understanding in both students and professionals.
Instead, Hacker proposed an alternative approach to teaching mathematics to students called “citizen statistics”. Under this paradigm, he reasoned that students will only need to learn mathematical concepts that they can apply to their future professions and personal endeavors.
Conversely, this paper presents arguments that it is necessary, practical, and invaluable to retain algebra as a compulsory class in secondary schools.
Increasing need and changing mindset
To begin with, in the midst of globalization backed by ongoing advancements in science and technology, there is a heightened interest in how newly developed machines and gadgets function, how it can benefit them, and why these innovations are needed in the first place. As algebra forms a core component of several scientific and technological concepts, it is part of the backbone of modernization.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2016), an increase was observed in the completion of mathematical courses by secondary students, including algebra, from 1990 to 2009. It also reports that such an increase occurred across various ethnic groups and races. During the aforementioned time period, the rate of completion of algebra II by Hispanic students improved from 40 to 71 percent, while there was an increase in the portion of blacks that finished the same course from 44 to 71 percent. Such developments prove that more young people are not only interested in studying courses such as algebra, but are also capable of finishing them.
As a counter-argument to Hacker’s assertions to remove algebra from the curriculum, Gulick (2012) claims that the mentality of intimidation and fear that Hacker alleges to see in students pertaining to algebra was not prevalent in the United States in the mid-20th century. He further argues that such a mindset is a product of pressure from local district officials and school administrators. According to him, this failure to provide the basic knowledge and discipline necessary for young minds to be enticed and attain sufficient learning in algebra is another reason for students having difficulties in such a course.
Development of skills and mindset of students
Another argument is that algebra allows students to develop skills necessary for their future activities, even for non-mathematical work. While opponents claim that algebra has few practical applications outside of scientific or engineering context, fields such as the humanities reveal several concepts of algebra within them. For example, Leonardo da Vinci used the Fibonacci sequence in his artwork. Specifically, this series wherein succeeding numbers are the sum of their respective two preceding numbers, was used to create the famous Mona Lisa.
One such skill is critical thinking. Gulick (2012) points out that algebra aids in developing problem-solving and logical thinking skills, which have a wide range of applications. As an example, when organizing a committee to host a fun run, the group initially selects a manager to oversee all discussions. They then create sub-committees, which is responsible for a particular part of the fun run, including the printing of jerseys, reserving the routes, financing through sponsorships, and promotions through print and online media. These sub-committees will have to work together and with the manager to decide on a time table for efficient organization. They will then conduct activities to achieve their targets in time to prevent issues. The role of critical thinking is necessary in this scenario because the group needs to use this ability to strategize in an efficient, thorough, and disciplined way that a field such as algebra can provide.
Gulick (2012) also argues that algebra is needed to hone the arithmetic skills acquired from prior educational levels. This prevents students from feeling uneasy with number-related matters, which is necessary to function in a modernizing world. This becomes even more important for students intending to take on careers in economics or become entrepreneurs.
Legal basis for maintenance
Current laws support maintaining algebra as a compulsory subject in secondary schools. Specifically, the Higher Education Act of 1965 promotes education as a means for students to become professionals contributing to national and local economic development. Even though this law has been amended several times since, its core principle remains in force. Under this paradigm, as algebra is integral to the development of the skills and discipline of young minds in preparation for future careers and their eventual contribution to national development, it is necessary for this field to be maintained as a required subject in secondary schools.
In addition, this law highlights that secondary schools must focus on continuity from primary levels, which includes some concepts of algebra, and magnifying it with higher levels of information to develop their skills for their future careers. Particularly, secondary schools should place an emphasis on advanced training by expounding the applications of such information acquired from academic work to help increase their quality of life and make it easier for them to go with any small-scale or large-scale changes in the future.
Communicating the information better
The prevailing public opinion of algebra has been generally uncomplimentary due to its apparent difficulty and lack of practicality outside an academic setting. However, it is simply inexcusable for the secondary school students to evade a hard course just because that is how they see it to be. If the educational system is made easier for students, it produces a mindset of contentment and entitlement, as well as a failure to see the world in the bigger picture.
Mehta (2012) argues that the solution is to teach the subject better. Instead of completely removing algebra in the midst of unenthusiastic perspectives, the way it is being taught should be revised to make it more interesting to students. Since these students tend to question the significance of what is being taught in class to their lives, teachers should utilize more real-life situations as models for solving the problems presented in class and explaining certain algebraic concepts. As the ones tasked with the development of young minds, teachers must shoulder the responsibility of finding ways to keep the students engaged in this topic.
For example, teachers can hold activities where students simulate a communal experience exploring the unexpected applications of algebra on everyday life. Instructors should use activities that students are certainly familiar of as well. High school students can play 20 Questions for the teacher to determine if the students fully understand important terms in algebra. Also, encouraging students to form group studies not only helps students to be immersed in other techniques their classmates are using, which they may find more suitable; it also aids them in getting comfortable with one another, improving their social skills (Gulick, 2012).
Mehta (2012) opposes Hacker’s arguments regarding algebra, claiming that contrary to the complexity of theories and detailed calculations, the concentration of the algebra being taught should be letting students “take a set of rules and apply them in different situations”. In other words, some people are inclined to misconstrue that algebra has limited applications or it is more of an obstacle to the development of young minds. Unbeknownst to the public, they use several concepts of algebra in their daily endeavors.
In conclusion, it is needed to maintain algebra as a required class in secondary schools because it is important to national development and global competitiveness, specifically scientific and technological development. Higher exposure to algebra also provides students with more opportunities to nurture skills that can be applied even in non-mathematical careers. There is a legal basis for not removing algebra from school curriculum, as it requires expounding information acquired from the primary level. While opponents of algebra argue about its limited applicability outside of scientific or mathematical matters, certain concepts of it are actually used more than what is popular belief, even in areas of seemingly non-mathematical context. Removing the subject altogether is only counterproductive; instead, methods for teaching algebra should be altered to reverse the negative views of the public and strengthen the the character of the students.
Gulick, Denny. “Should Algebra Be Required?” MAA Focus Dec. 2012: n. pag. MAA Focus. Mathematical Association of America. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.
Hacker, Andrew. “Is Algebra Necessary?” New York Times. N.p., 28 July 2012. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.
Mehta, Hemant. “Why Algebra Is Necessary: Rebutting Andrew Hacker.” Patheos. N.p., 31 July 2012. Web. 26 Nov. 2016.
National Center for Education Statistics. High School Coursetaking. N.p.: n.p., 2016. PDF.