Monday, July 30, 2012

My Algebra II Cents

I'm no expert on Algebra II. In fact, I don't even remember what is covered in Algebra II, which is closely related to my feeling that it isn't really necessary for all American adults to know. This is also backed up by my suspicion that the vast majority of American adults would fail an Algebra II final exam utterly, yet that is very, very far down on the list of this nation's problems.

This is really a philosophical argument.

  1. What is the purpose of primary and secondary education?
  2. In particular, what does a high school diploma represent?
  3. What is the difference between subjects included in the curriculum and those absolutely required for graduation?

Beyond that, anything that doesn't focus on exactly what is covered in Algebra II and why those topics should be absolutely necessary for graduation is just hand-waving. What is the state's and community's interest in imaginary numbers?

Sherman Dorn's asks:

Is this an argument about what other people’s children should be exposed to? Often, arguments that propose limiting access to college or more challenging courses in high school are made by people with advanced degrees whose own children or nephews and nieces took high school math through calculus (or the equivalent for other subjects).

In fact, this is an argument about other people's children. It is an argument about students who have otherwise met all graduation requirements other than understanding and using polynomials, rational expressions, quadratic equations, imaginary and complex numbers, exponents and logarithms, etc. Neither my or your children will likely fit into that category. Are those students in that situation individually and are we collectively better off not giving them a diploma until they demonstrate proficiency in those topics? That is the real, actual question.


pd said...

Thank you, thank you. Written like a practicing non-math classroom teacher. And a more thorough rejoinder than Fred's. Should be noted that once the Algebra mandate gets embraced at a school-wide level in a comprehensive high school like mine, the ripple effect on the master schedule is nothing short of ability tracking.

Dan Meyer said...

The article concerned Algebra, period, not second-year Algebra. The argument that we ought to limit second-year Algebra (with its strict rites and rituals of symbolic manipulation) to people who volunteer for it is a much easier argument than saying "all Algebra oughtta be elective." Given how much of the automated and programmed world relies on an understanding of variable representation, I don't really see that argument.

Anonymous said...

Damn. It was a blog post. Not a dissertation.

Tom Hoffman said...

Ah... yes, thanks for pointing out my brain fart Dan.