I am a math teacher and I'm split on the curriculum issue.  But I have
to respond to those (not just Kathy) who say "I've never used algebra." 
My response is:  of course not, you don't know it.  If you know algebra
you can use it.

I spent a number of years as an at-home mom and used algebra many times
(and not just when I was substitute teaching).  Some examples: I helped
a neighbor figure out how much real whole milk to mix with powdered
non-fat milk to come up with 2% milk that her family would drink (a
mixture problem).  I used permutations when planning the seating
arrangements for a church dinner. I helped a business owner calculate
profits for inventory for which he was missing purchase records. I
frequently handle landscape related questions -- still.  Sure, lots of
people get along without algebra, but just because you don't use it,
doesn't mean it isn't useful.

This common argument against algebra can be used for most general
education subjects.  I can honestly say I have never diagramed a
sentence in real life.  Nor have I had to analyze poetry.  I've never
found a great need for critiquing art or music.  I've gotten along quite
well in life without a solid understanding of photosynthesis or the
parts of a cell or how a star is born or methods of archeological
digging.  In fact, looking back, I think the most useful general
education class I took was aerobics -- and skiing.

We've developed a culture where being bad at math is socially
acceptable.  We should be trying to change that paradigm, not nurture
it.  I have a child who has writing anxiety that rivals any math anxiety
that I've seen.  Should he be encouraged in his anxiety?  Or should he
be taught skills to overcome it?  

The "math problem" is very complex and will not be simply solved by a
change in curriculum.

Kathryn Van Wagoner
Math Lab Manager
Utah Valley State College

ad-van-tage   n.  A factor conducive to success.

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