I have taught high school math for 12 years(which means I have been teaching Algebra for 12 years since EVERY COURSE tends to lean back to Algebra), and I am convinced that this course is not for everyone. Obvious I know, but the numbers are beginning to speak louder every year.
Diminishing numbers in graduates in both high school and college levels can probably be traced back to some type of Algebra catastrophe! According to the NY Times, hundreds of thousands of people fail algebra every year. Is that necessary?
It kills confidence, drains energy and pocket books(except for tutors and textbook writers), and I have yet to see research based evidence that it ‘makes you a better thinker’.
I received my Master’s Degree in Math Education, and the real message I came away with was this. People who can do Algebra well, who can learn it from a decent explanation and a set of parameters, can learn most tasks in the same way. However, I do not believe it was the learning of Algebra that opened a doorway of ability for these people. They already possess the rare ability to read a set of rules or look at a diagram and apply the information to a problem. I know this because I am one of them. I was able to do this long before Algebra came into my life. I am thankful for the ability, but not grateful to Algebra for it!
I have watched a rainbow of thousands of students come through my doors, and it is painfully obvious who has it and who doesn’t. It frustrates me to think of the those students who spend hours on homework, grinding out problem after problem, recognizing zero similarity from one to the next. While other students can look at it twice and tell you how to solve one just like it, even if it had no numbers at all!
I am not saying Algebra is not necessary or interesting. I think it’s fascinating. Most math geeks like me agree! I am saying that if you want to teach someone to be logical, use reasoning, parameters, prediction, and assessment, we can come up with all sorts of real life problems they can solve. “Problem Solving in the Real World for Those Who Don’t Want To Be Engineers” probably won’t make the course schedule in my life time as an alternative to the mighty Algebra. Textbook lobbyist will make sure of that. Besides, the class and the textbook is already written. It weeds out those ‘slackers’ who don’t have what it takes to succeed in school, and it is just easier to stick an Algebra 1 book in their face and say ” Do the odds, the answers are in the back, let me know if you have any questions.”