Friday, February 17, 2006

Algebra? I don't gots to show you no stinkin' algebra.

Pharyngula has an excellent post up in response to a horrifying column by Richard Cohen. In a nutshell, Cohen tells some unfortunate high school student that she doesn't need and will never need algebra because, well, Cohen can't calculate 40% of 20 and has done quite nicely.

I will sympathize with Cohen just a bit. I used, or was force fed, as it were, Yale's SMSG Advanced Mathematics. I was taught to caculate 40% of 20 as follows.

40/100 = x/20
100x = 800

My dad thought that was the funniest thing he'd ever heard of, especially when I entered high school and still didn't know that you could calculate 40% of 20 by just multplying .4 by 20. Of course, when I got stumped a bit on (x2 + 3x) = (8x - 6), he suddenly remembered that he needed to go check the car for a low tire, or mow the lawn, or something.

In any case, telling a high school student that she doesn't ever have to learn algebra is like telling her she doesn't ever need to learn how to cook a hamburger or paint a picture or change a diaper or sing a song or write a legible and decipherable sentence. It's all important. It will all be used later and many times over, even if you don't realize it.

What I wonder is why the young lady is just now, in high school, being exposed to algebra. My kids are already beginning to get a taste of it, at the ages of 6 and 9. Oh, Los Angeles city schools. Now I understand.

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