Hi All,
Here's my two cents worth.

I think  we need  always to consider, when discussing  general 
education college curriculum  courses and requirements,  that 
resources and reasonable requirements will always be limited. A 
justification can probably be put forward for far more subjects and 
courses than any institution can or will require. Given the 
limitations of resources we have to make choices about not what is 
good or beneficial to learn, but what is more beneficial or better. 
So, for me, the question needs to be posed something like: Is algebra 
more worthy of being taught/learned than other courses/subjects? 
Ideally, then, we would consider not only algebra but these other 
potential subject areas, at a level of detail beyond their mere names 
(e.g. "algebra"). I think we also need to examine beliefs and value 
judgements about the benefits of particular courses. Many of these 
questions then become empirical (not that I'm saying only empirical 
questions are important or valuable).

For instance, claims have been made about the general benefits of 
algebra courses to students' "logic" and "problem solving" 
capabilities. That's a tangible outcome that can be assessed in some 
way. Do we have evidence that teaching algebra to students does 
indeed improve their performance in these areas; does algebra 
instruction help students develop problem solving strategies that are 
broadly transferable? ?For that matter, does teaching a critical 
reading course improve students' critical thinking generally? Does 
learning, for instance, chess, improve logic and problem solving 
generally ? The answer to the last question, at least, appears to be 

Another question, getting back to algebra, is whether students who 
take and pass algebra courses ACTUALLY use it in the situations where 
algebra COULD be used. The question as I would frame it isn't whether 
algebra could be used, but whether it is, because we're not talking 
about the value of algebra in the abstract, but the value of 
students' taking algebra courses as opposed to some other course. So, 
while some on the list used algebra in various situations, that does 
not mean that most students do or would. The equivalent  on the 
literacy/study strategies side of the issue is asking whether 
students in study skills courses apply  what they've learned to their 
subject-matter courses, not to mention when reading the newspaper. 
For me, since this question takes us not only to what students learn, 
but how they use their knowledge,  then we can't really discuss the 
issue of whether algebra should be taught separately from the 
question of HOW it is taught. That's because there's different ways 
of knowing things, and these ways, in turn, are dependent on how 
knowledge is acquired, which is a function--at least to some 
extent--of the method of instruction.




Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention,  through 
the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men pursue in 
the world, with the world, and with each other. --Paolo Freire

Dominic (Nic) J. Voge
Study Strategies Program Coordinator
University of California, Berkeley
Student Learning Center
136 Cesar Chavez Student Center  #4260
Berkeley, CA 94720-4260

(510) 643-9278
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