February 20th, 2006

run the fuck away

Algebra is Useless

A Washington Post Columnist claims that algebra has no use in the real world, and that math does not teach reasoning- only writing.

For the love of Cthullu, I want to kick this man in the teeth. In general terms, I would argue that these are the pillars of education:
  • Math
  • Science
  • History
  • Literature
  • Languages (native and otherwise)
  • Physical Education

Again, these are broad terms, and should not be interpreted to exclude anything. For example, a basic introduction to philosophy can be included as a combination of Math, Science, History and Literature.

And yes, I include physical education; while I recall it as the worst part of my school career, and our methodology could use some serious improvement, an understanding of basic fitness and the care and maintenance of the human body is required for being a functional adult. As I've matured, I've realized that my Neanderthal Gym Teacher was actually a very intelligent individual, even if I was too closed minded to realize it at the time.

I will not prioritize one of these over another- though concentrations should, ideally, be formed according to the student's interests.

At the end of a public school education, every child should be capable of:
  • Algebra, Geometry, and a familiarity with Trigonometry (so closely tied with Geometry, and informs ones understanding of it)
  • Using good scientific reasoning to evaluate various claims, to understand basic concepts like Continental Drift, behavior of Electricity, Evolution, etc.
  • Reading any non-specialized document (ie. not technical journals that require specialized knowledge), and be capable of writing, on command, short essays with proper grammar and cogent, organized thoughts
  • Demonstrate familiarity with key events that resulted in the world today, especially the reasons and the motivations that lead to the events. Dates are not required.
  • Converse, with at least a degree of clarity, in a foreign tongue. Personally, I would like to see a standardized minimum language, like in previous eras, Latin. I'm not suggesting we use Latin, but there was a definite advantage to knowing that language at the time. The advantages of everyone learning a single second language (and potentially others on top of that) should be obvious.
  • Maintain a level of physical fitness and nutrition. Obviously, individual biology differs, and that bar varies from person to person.

In previous eras, an educated man could speak their native tongue, Latin, and usually two or three other languages on top of that. Today, we have difficulty teaching students one other language.

In this era, Information Technology is obviously an important element. However, I did not list it above because, like my example of philosophy, it is something that derives from all of the above topics. And all it really requires is the capacity for logical thought and reasoning, and not much more to be an end user.

Now, the obvious objection is that some students could not rise to the challenge of these things. Fine- this isn't for everyone. Which is why we need a decent Vocational program in our schools. Not everyone can, or wants to, go off to college. Instead of restricting the curriculum, hurting students that could benefit from a formal education, we need a stronger vocational system that would allow the less intellectual students to excel in some field. Everyone has a capacity for learning, even if they are not inclined to learn things like Math. Nor should the lack of formal education be treated as a stigma- the man who designed the SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest aircraft ever constructed, never graduated from high school. Practical education has its own distinct value that should not be overlooked.

Education should both be targeted towards a basic understanding of our world, as well as an exploration of an individual student's talents, so that they can be encouraged into a specific path.