Teaching more than math
By The Tribune-Review
Published: Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
Debate over the utility of high school math courses often accompanies the beckoning school year. I revisit Andrew Hacker's New York Times column “Is Algebra Necessary?” from last summer and provide the obvious, unpopular, answer: Yes.
Will students ever need to graph a linear function or find points of discontinuity in their later professional lives? No. Most students' use of high school algorithms ends with formal education.
So why learn it? Because, when taught with the goal of creating powerful habits of mind, mathematics empowers students to flex their creative and analytic problem-solving skills in ways that no other discipline does. Yes, the classroom experience can be mind-numbing. If regurgitating an algorithm is all that's required, a student will, and should, glaze over in bored frustration.
I used to be a stultifying teacher, devoted to the lecture and concerned primarily with content coverage. Thankfully, experience and strong mentors revealed a truth obvious to master educators: Students are capable of far more than copying and pasting. Dialogue, debate and challenge of generalization fill my current classroom. I have higher hopes for my students than the ability to merely duplicate a task. I want them to actively engage, demand proof and justify cogently. Are these skills necessary for the welfare of future generations? Yes.
The next time you engage in the algebra debate, ask yourself, “Is your aversion to algebra or to the classroom?” If the latter, the focus should be on the quality of instruction. Don't throw out algebra with an inexperienced teacher.
The writer teaches mathematics at The Ellis School's Upper School.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Voting rights bill
- No basis for NRA criticism I
- No basis for NRA criticism II
- No basis for NRA criticism III
- Respect for vets
- Not for sale
- Tragedy’s ramifications II
- Children safer
- Imam’s thoughts
- Gas drilling’s benefits
- Consequences in space