In Defense of Algebra

Courtney Williams's picture
Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I admit it: I am one of the millions of Americans who suffer from math anxiety, and my math phobia runs deep. I shudder when the check arrives after dinner, then surreptitiously slide it toward my math-proficient husband.

I love all aspects of my teaching job save for grading, which requires me to perform addition and division, and worse, assign inflexible numbers to my students’ aptitude. I am happy to report that I have never, not once, used algebra in my everyday life.

Given my history with math, Prof. Andrew Hacker’s Op-Ed article “Is Algebra Necessary?” should have prompted cheers and fist-bumps with my teenage son. What I got instead was wisdom from the mouth of babes. “Who says algebra isn’t useful?” my son demanded as I slid him the headline. “It’s useful — I mean, it’s not useful now, but I don’t know what I’m going to be. What if I want to be an engineer?”

Professor Hacker’s article has clearly hit a nerve. His opinion piece has accumulated hundreds of comments, many from educators, engineers and mathematicians arguing for the merits of algebra. I claim no such expertise; my perspective is personal.

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