Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Problem with Algebra II is Not So Much the "Algebra" as the "II"

One of the strong points of Nicholson Baker's sceptical piece on Algebra's role in the curriculum in Harpers is that he does a good job of consistently referring to a requirement for "Algebra II" as the issue. It is extraordinary to require two years of any subject that narrowly defined in the curriculum. The question is not "Any algebra?" but "How much algebra?"

You might ask "whether kids should have to read anything above Romeo & Juliet, and not Macbeth or Othello. Or the script to the Leonardo DiCaprio version of the movie. Or the manual to the VCR that once played the movie." But it isn't an apples to apples comparison insofar as "British Literature" isn't a course anymore, and "English Language Arts" is a contested grab bag anyhow.

A better comparison might be the standard science curriculum. We don't require two years of biology, chemistry or physics. Does any state require two years of American History? Is two years of anything as specific as "Algebra" required anywhere?

Looked at one way, this implies that Algebra is a uniquely important subject, essentially the most important thing young people need to learn. Of course, nobody really believes that. On the other hand, two years of algebra is probably essential in the march to Calculus, so what it really implies that calculus is uniquely important, which is also rather obviously not true.


blaw0013 said...

I suggest further that the comparison to Biology is even misplaced in that Algebra is far narrower a topic!

Will Richardson said...

Little late on this, but US History II is required in my kids' high school, and, perhaps in the state. (NJ)