To the Editor:
This is in response to “Is There an Algebra Overkill” (Oct. 13, 2010). The United States cannot have it both ways. We want to keep our high-tech jobs within the country, and, at the same time, we do not want to encourage the learning of algebra by middle and high school students. Algebra is a gateway course to college-level work.
Ours is a high-tech nation, and we need a continuous pool of qualified people in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math—to lead in this world. Many countries have a two-track system: They offer a curriculum through calculus for students who are science majors, and offer arithmetic for all others because the demand for science majors is limited. The United States cannot afford this track system because we need every stem major that we can find.
Algebra is everywhere. When taught right, algebra is beautiful and simple. Even the most difficult courses in the world, like quantum physics, use algebra to achieve the final answer.
To make the learning of algebra meaningful, math professionals need to deal with the “math devils” before they start teaching algebra—the “cross products” and two negative signs in multiplication and division, and also in the addition of two negative numbers or terms. The problem is not with algebra itself but in the way it is being taught even by the most content-qualified professionals.
A version of this article appeared in the November 03, 2010 edition of Education Week as Debating Algebra As a Gateway Course