What Is the Value of Algebra?

Apparently it has no value or practical application. Usually when I feel the urge to smack people with the "you're too dumb to be ignorant" stick, it's because of some wacky mis-understanding of basic economic concepts (e.g. Bush sets oil prices, we invaded Iraq for the oil, OPEC is spelled B-U-S-H.) However, this clown Richard Cohen is doing a massive disservice to kids everywhere. It's a good thing these kids can't read.


Robert said...

What a typical liberal ass. (Though Cohen does occasionally espouse sensible opinions).

It's things like algebra that could give a high-school grad an extra facility with numbers so that he might be able to handle management tasks (which often require daily compilation and checking of figures) after paying his dues at an entry level job.

Likewise, geometry, especially the drafting part with compasses and protractors, comes in pretty handy for carpenters and other building tradesmen.

Now, you CAN do these jobs without having learned alegbra and geometry but you'll be more PRODUCTIVE if you have learned them.

Breedo said...

Every so often you come across these idiots who couldn't hack math so they say it's worthless. If I were as asinine, I could prove the validity of the uselessness of English class and history. You can get by in the world without them. Of course, don't get me off on a tangent about the ridiculous emphasis we put on going to college...

"If, say, the school asked you for another year of English or, God forbid, history, so that you actually had to know something about your world, I would be on its side. But algebra? Please."

So sayeth the liberal arts major.

"Gabriela, sooner or later someone's going to tell you that algebra teaches reasoning. This is a lie propagated by, among others, algebra teachers. Writing is the highest form of reasoning. This is a fact. Algebra is not."

Writing is the lowest form of reasoning. If you're a good writer you can talk in circles without justifying anything...read anything a politician writes. Algebra itself does not teach reasoning...the application of algebra does.

"The proof of this, Gabriela, is all the people in my high school who were whizzes at math but did not know a thing about history and could not write a readable English sentence. "

Hell, with internet slang, most kids don't know what a readable sentence is. I know history teachers and English teachers who don't even bother with punctuation in their own writing. It has nothing to do with reasoning skills. The fact of the matter is that those kids who do well in math tend to do ok in history and english...the converse is not as strong (and if you know what converse means, thank your math teacher).

What kills me are these pseudo-intillectuals who think that English is the only language. They haven't spent enough time trying to understand Algebra from the perspective of it being the language of science. It is a much more precise language than English.

Jennifer said...

Dear Rob,

When you say [w]hat a typical liberal ass is it because you've checked the Democratic, Green, Socialist and any other relevant party planks and found they've all added banning algebra to their list, just behind state-funded abortion on-demand?

I only ask because I'm liberal and a liberal-arts graduate and I use algebra constantly in my work and advocate the value of its being taught in high school. Should I surrender my pinko-commie ID card? What about my subscriptions to Utne Reader and Mother Jones, do I need to cancel them?



Robert said...


As a liberal arts guy who also majored in science as well as humanities, I don't call Cohen a typical liberal ass just b/c of this column but b/c this one ices the cake of countless other non-sensical liberal positions he's taken in a pompous manner. I will admit that there is occasionally a Cohen column worth reading (I'm not willing to extend this consideration to Maureen Dowd, however.)

I think what gets me the most is (as Breedo alludes to) he is discouraging kids from acquiring the most solid practical tool of logic and analysis that is taught in high school. In that most liberal arguments I consume are founded on emotion even when they are cleverly written, I think that Cohen's piece typifies a certain kind of liberal assisinity.

If I were you, I'd make sure not to carry your pinko commie ID with you when you're driving lest you be pulled over. I'd also save my money and get rid of one of the two subscriptions. ;-)

Jennifer said...

In that most liberal arguments I consume are founded on emotion even when they are cleverly written

At the same time, I find nothing wrong with a certain amount of emotion in the discourse, particularly if the emotion is compassion and is not of an hysterical nature.

In the case of this particular article, though, I agree that it is a ridiculous argument. Certainly there are entire paths in life one can take where the person will never have to use algebra, but that doesn't mean I agree it's a skill that should not be taught.

I do think the whole "I'm just not a math person" is usually a cop-out and often reinforced by teachers (sorry, Breedo) and I do find it particularly sad that 98% of the people I hear use that excuse are women and that they've allowed some stereotype with little basis in fact to influence them.

As for getting pulled over for driving while liberal, that doesn't happen much out here on the west coast, plus I don't own a car . . . I ride share.

Breedo said...

Don't appologize to me, Jen. I agree that "I'm just not a math person" excuse is often accepted by teachers...just not usually math teachers. It's usually a dean/principal/headmaster/guidance counselor/etc. who is "fighting" for the student who will buy that one and use it. Often, though, the excuse is started by and/or fostered by the parents. It's a rare day that a math teacher will say someone just isn't a math person. They may admit that they can't get through to that person in a way they can understand, but they won't give up on them. And even though some kids really aren't math people and simply can't learn algebra at a standard pace (at least in their youth), most math departments will have a special program for them (I'm sure the Pacis remember the Sped classes :-). I have never known a math teacher who seriously accepts inability as an excuse to give up. Of course, that doesn't mean us math teachers haven't done everything we can to help that student get through the minimum requirement...and then praised the lord when they were no longer taking math :-)

Jennifer said...

Sorry (again) Breedo--I'm talking about public schools (which is what the article refers to). But you & the bros Paci know nothing about those ;-)

Mike said...


Shut yer pie hole.

Rob, George, and I each spent quite a bit of time in public schools and our mother taught in public schools for 15+ years. I don't know about Breeden, but I think he has PS experience as well.


Jennifer said...

Oh fine, Mike-- shoot my populist theory straight to hell why don't ya?

Pie hole, shut.

Breedo said...

And zip it! I was talking public and private...I do know a few people who have taught to the masses :-)