Andrew Hacker stopped my scanning eye on Sunday. He wrote a leading essay that appeared in the New York Times Sunday Review. ”Is Algebra necessary?” The question per se is unsettling. Is any high school or college course unnecessary? He suggests that algebra is essential for some well-educated alumni, but not all of them.
Then this week in another enjoyable lunch with Jim Taylor in Darlington’s mini mart, he brought up the topic. Although Jim lives deep into rural terrain, he is a New York Times reader. He’s an engineer so yes he’s taken Algebra.
May I speak for myself? Algebra I was necessary for me. So was Algebra II. I also took Bookkeeping in high school, and I’m just as pleased in having taken that course by Clyde B. Stoner as I am for taking his Personal Use Typing. I wasn’t done with math, however. In college I added Trigonometry to my schedule. That was the most enjoyable of my high school and college math classes. Graduate Statistics was a bear that growled.
And then I think of some other high school and college courses. Music theory. Physics. Geology. Latin. Shakespeare. Chemistry. Public Speaking. History of Southeast Asia. Were these courses necessary? Necessary or unnecessary, I wouldn’t give up any of them.
I am dismayed that we have allowed our education system to squeeze itself into the narrows of our occupational aspirations. General education, suited to the making of world citizens and critical thinkers and imaginative creators, seems to have been left behind in print libraries.
To you I must admit that I haven’t used algebra today. Nor chemistry. Nonetheless I value the education I was privileged to get, and continue to this day to be an eager student.