Skip to comments.Does Your Job Really Require Algebra?
Posted on 08/08/2012 4:34:06 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
America has a math problem. We've had a math problem for at least fifty years - since the Soviets launched Sputnik, if not before. Our high school students have trouble competing with those raised in considerably poorer nations, and we aren't producing enough talented scientists and engineers to ensure our nation a leadership position in the twenty-first century knowledge economy.
If you think about it the right way, that's not just one math problem - it's two. You might think of improving math skills of both "average" students and the nation's top students as two birds that could be killed with one stone. But they aren't - in fact, some of the easiest ways to solve one problem make the other one worse. Our failure to recognize the distinction between these two problems helps explain why we've managed to spend so much time worrying about math in this country without ever improving the situation.
The tragedy of American mathematics can be told through the history of a single course: algebra. Two generations ago, algebra was a course reserved for elite students - perhaps the top 10%. It was taught exclusively in high school. The educators who designed the curriculum saw little point in teaching the abstract subject to students destined for careers in manual labor. A large proportion of those students who took the course would go on to use math in their careers: among male college students who graduated in the 1940s, for example, about 3 in 10 majored in a mathematically intense subject.
The pragmatic attitude towards mathematics for the masses gave way in the post-World War II era. Successive waves of curricular reforms sought to improve the mathematical skills of ordinary students. The "New Math" movement of the 1950s and early 60s tried to beef up the curriculum for all students, with disastrous results. By steering the curriculum away from practical application to a focus on fundamentals, new math managed to turn a generation of students off from math. Male college graduates raised in the new math era chose math-intensive majors at a rate of 20% -- down a third relative to the prior generation.
The new math movement waned, but an intense interest in improving the math performance of ordinary students persisted for more than a generation, culminating in the "No Child Left Behind" movement of the past decade. We now instruct our schools to prioritize the performance of the worst students, and impose no penalty if they neglect their top achievers in the process. Recent studies have confirmed that schools respond to these incentives.
Today, algebra is considered a "gateway" course seen as the most critical step toward college-readiness, rather than an abstract course useful only to a select few. About one-third of American students take algebra as eighth graders. In some states, more than half of all students take algebra in middle school. A few years ago, the California State Board of Education attempted to mandate that all students take algebra in eighth grade. Proponents of early algebra point out that students who complete the course at an earlier age are more likely to do all sorts of wonderful things later in their lives. While this observation is true, it best serves to illustrate the difference between correlations and cause-and-effect relationships. Presumably, the students who take algebra at a young age were precocious even before they took the course - that's how they ended up there in the first place.
Unfortunately, the misguided transformation of algebra into a course for the masses has proven to be a cure worse than the disease. The transformation has resulted in a less rigorous course. Introductory textbooks have slimmed down considerably over the past century, omitting some subjects entirely. The primary victims of this dumbing-down are the elite students themselves. Among the most recent cohorts of college graduates, the proportion of male students majoring in math-intensive subjects has continued to hover in the 20% range. If we compare this to the historical 30% rate of two generations ago, we lose about 100,000 mathematicians, scientists, and engineers every year - enough to replace every American employee of both Microsoft and Google and still have tens of thousands to spare.
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I took algebra 3 years in high school and once in college. I will never understand it or be able to do it on my own. At least I had a good teacher in high school were who able to “dumb” it down for me and explain things step-by-step (how I learn). When I was on my own, I was lost.
Geometry, on the other hand, piece of cake.
I work in a department that does what would have been called operations research (and was when I graduated from college a long time ago) and now is probably called industrial engineering. We basically try to optimize internal budget allocation in a large corporation. Algebra is one of many math requirements among other things like calculus, differential equations, familiarity with matrix operations, etc. The sad part is that I'm trying to hire someone with those same skills, and the pickings are mighty slim in the US educated applicant pool. Too many degrees in "gender studies," "dramatic arts," etc. and not enough in applied math, engineering, etc. The applicants from India and to a lesser extent China are much better prepared.
I never could grasp it on paper but know I use it in the physical sense.
As a factory foreman I would get an order for 1 skid of parts. I knew that it meant that I needed 270 individual parts or 9 boxes of 30.
As you said as with math or any other subject in school is the teacher , some are and some are not , I was lucky to have Mrs. Rhodes , and yes I use algebra almost every day.
My job even requires trigonometry sometimes.
Thankfully, no calculus.
I did and I did and I have no clue what I did nor why.
Algebra? I think most people use it every day, whether or not they’re aware of it. Not the y=mx+b stuff but word problems with variables. I suppose you can just call it advanced arithmetic, but it’s the kind of thing that’s covered in a first year algebra class.
I regularly use algebra in my work. Trig and linear algebra fairly often, calculus occasionally.
Womyn’s studies, “poli sci”, “Great Moments in LGBTQ History”, etc. — not so much.
No, but my ability to use what I do know to find out what I don't, with mathematical certainty, did.
> Does Your Job Really Require Algebra?
You betcha it does; not only algebra, but calculus, differential equations and matrices. There hasn’t been more than a 2 week period in the past 30 or 35 year period that I haven’t needed to use higher math.
If you go at a speed for the gifted student, the average student gets lost and never finds their way back.
You cannot treat students as a cooky-cutter assembly line, which is what almost all schools try to do nowadays.
Nothing like the smell of pimping for importing more guest workers in the morning.
We produce more STEM grads than we create jobs for; In addition our current STEM grads compete with off shoring, guest workers, and illegals (visa overstays).
I had the same professor for 30 hours of accounting in college.
He never used numbers.
Algebra teaches the valuable skill of abstraction - which the Greeks considered the fundamental element of being an educated person.
Anyone with a knowledge of elementary arithmetic can tell you that 3x3=9, 4x3=12, and 5x3=15. (This is “concrete” thinking.) But being able to detect some principle about “any number multiplied by 3” requires abstract thinking.
Applying this principle to FR: The press reports one story after another, counting on us to see them all as unrelated. The abstract thinker connects the dots and sees the bigger picture of what’s really going on.
And yes, I use algebra nearly every day in one way or another.
If students did their "fair share" by applying themselves in their studies, there wouldn't be any need for importing guest workers.
By the same token, I think we have plenty of qualified people...employers want to pay as little as possible.
The son of a friend of mine just finished a Ph.D in Math. My friend, a math-NUT, audited as many of his son’s classes as he could out of sheer joy. In speaking to one of the several Indian profs, he learned that scholarships in math at every level every year were untouched—millions of dollars’ worth in a relatively small Ohio school. The reason—American kids didn’t seem to feel the need for such grueling subjects. Too many other subjects led to an easier time in college and more money afterwards. And, of course, it’s not just math. Medicine’s suffering, too; and unfortunately the answer’s been limiting the basics and pushing the specialties (especially those dealing with athletes’ problems). The facebook/reality show generations.
I was a victim of New Math. Somehow I labored through Algebra and Geometry and I’m terrible at math. Every kid should get at least an introduction to it. If they never use it at least they can grouse about it for the next 40 years. LOL!!
The HORRORS!!! Next thing you know, consumers will want to pay the lowest price for goods and services too!!! And get the highest return for their investments... where does it all end??!?!?! Aiiigghhhh!
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