On Algebra

“So I had to have like three years of math in high school to get into college,” Brielle was telling us, “even though I’m getting an art degree. And I have to take more math in college, for, like, an art degree. But I was reading this guy in, like, the New York Times or something, and he was saying nobody should have to do algebra to get into college, cause it’s like keeping out people who would be really smart in other subjects, and most people will never have to do it in real life.”

“I don’t think algebra is the only problem,” Mr. Magundi said. “I think the problem is that, when you come right down to it, all the necessary subjects have been learned, or should have been learned, by sixth grade. By that time, every child who’s gone though school should know how to read, write, and leave a tip at a restaurant. But then what do we do with them? They have to stay in school, because they’re too young to work and too stupid to be trusted at home all day.

“So they end up in high school. But every high-school class is unnecessary for most of the students in it. No one I know who isn’t in a scientific or engineering field uses algebra, and no one I know who isn’t in an academic or literary field uses English Lit. And apparently no one at all uses World History, to judge by the way we keep repeating it. I suppose it may be true that you’re a better person for learning all that algebra. But I might also argue that you would be an even better person if you had spent all that time on developing your artistic skill, which is what you really love, rather than on math classes that you hated, and that taught you things you will never use again after your last math test.

“But I suppose I should keep my mouth shut. If we start questioning whether high-school kids have to learn algebra, pretty soon we’ll start asking whether they have to go to school at all.”

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