Arrogant jerks, Dept.

In a recent column in the Washington Post, Jay Mathews has written what has become the emblematic anthem against algebra II in high school

I can understand the argument against requiring algebra II for graduation, since at one time that was the case. Students only needed two years of math, and that usually consisted of algebra I and geometry.  But his argument seems to be to get rid of it altogether and in its place have courses that are more relevant like statistics.

He ignores the fact that if you really want to pursue statistics, you will have to have some facility in the topics taught in algebra 2.  So what is he suggesting? Students should take that in college?

But there are ways to ease algebra II out of high schools. Gregg Robertson, longtime principal of Washington-Liberty High School in Arlington, Va., noted that his math department has courses in probability and statistics, both regular and Advanced Placement, as well as a dual-enrollment quantitative reasoning course through Northern Virginia Community College.

I think I’m reading that right. Easing algebra II out of high schools means it isn’t an option for anyone. Unless he wants to walk it back and say “What I meant was ‘easing it out of graduation requirements’ “.  But he didn’t say that.

Mathews relies on the tired old arguments that supposedly give him credence: He took both algebra II and also calculus. He’s never used it in his life. There; that’s proof of its uselessness for you.  Many people are not scientists, engineers, or mathematicians. Why not ask them if they’ve ever used these courses that are deemed so useless?  Maybe such information would propel journos like Mathews to write more relevant columns.


4 thoughts on “Arrogant jerks, Dept.

  1. Jay Matthews doesn’t see or make the distinction between graduation requirements and requirements for all. He’s a Harvard educated fool. How many students does he think will get accepted to Harvard who can’t even pass Algebra II? How many degree programs in all colleges will be unattainable by these students? How many careers? How many careers require degrees containing classes and subjects that they might never use? How often do I need to use thermodynamics or reference a steam table? How often do I need to rebalance the flow of water in a piping system? Do I really need to know the molecular restructuring that happens when steel is annealed? Why should I know all the stuff I needed to know to pass the EIT test and then the Professional Engineering test? Never mind a rounded education when careers are, apparently, only about on-the-job vocational education needs.

    “Berry understands that overturning the current math sequence will require cooperation from universities, local school boards, state school boards and others. “The challenges are systemic,” he said. To me, that means I will not live long enough to see it happen.”

    Clearly, Berry wants to change it for all. It IS a systemic problem, but K-12 ed-school pedagogues will never, I repeat, never cause the reality of STEM degree programs to change. Education will be further divided between kids who have parents who fix things at home and those who get “distinguished” CC rubrics on a path to no remediation for a College Algebra (forget II) class in college.

    There is also this:

    “He [Berry] said his organization wants “significant rethinking of what we are teaching in high school to transform learning from focusing on mindless manipulations in mathematics toward developing conceptual understanding.”

    Bwa Ha, Ha, Ha! Clueless. It’s one thing for an educator to claim hegemony of how to teach, but they are claiming ownership of what understanding is (conceptual or otherwise) in math. Real world reality has to drive education down to the lowest levels, but they want push their fairy dust ideas up to drive reality. Unfortunately, most K-6 schools still live in fairy dust land, and most high schools will not allow that B.S. to take over completely. Seventh and eighth grades are the transition battle ground between low slope CC fairy dust and the higher slope reality of college and real life job requirements.

    “Berry wants to build what he calls “positive mathematics identity and agency.” He described that as students “seeing themselves as doers of mathematics and engaging in the behaviors of doers of mathematics.””

    I would laugh some more if it wasn’t so horribly and systemically wrong. Yes, let’s apply our critical thinking and ignore college degree requirements and what we “math doers” really do. Our “behaviors” are built on mastery of many levels of skills and understandings. It reminds me of my son’s Kindergarten teacher who confidently explained to me what understanding means in math for her students.

    These people can never, ever admit that what they want in math is not what is needed by any STEM career path. They can’t admit that they are just talking only about those students who, for whatever reason, can’t handle math up through Algebra II. They would then have to explain why this low slope starts in Kindergarten. They desperately want to have the high ground on thinking and understanding and mathematical behavior. They don’t have it and they never will. Reality will bite them in the butt, but maybe they will just get students to accept that the “process is the product” so it will only bite them in the butt.


  2. Arrogant jerks indeed.
    Of course you aren’t likely to use Algebra II in your “real life,” but the point of learning algebra is to learn logic – to learn how to think about any problem, which is what I tell my students. Of course math has the added challenge of learning how to read and write it, which I don’t think many teachers focus on. To many, it’s about “the answer,” sadly.
    I really enjoyed your previous post in which you showed your old text book – those were fact families!
    I use fact families all the time to get my Foundations students (9th-graders who aren’t ready for Algebra I) to solve basic equations. Once we have figured out how fact families work, then we can start the whole “do the same thing to both sides” thing.
    As an AP Statistics teacher, I would like to see more basic data analysis in the prior courses (I guess I agree with CC on this). This is becoming more important to other content areas, like AP Gov and Econ in that students need to be able to read a graph. I don’t really remember where I learned to do this – it seems like it was part of Social Studies and other subjects – but we have students who can’t read a graph, regardless of content area, so this certainly needs to be addressed and it looks like Math people are tagged to pick this up.
    Not really sure where my comment was going, but thought I would share my observations!


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