Sunday, August 18, 2013

Mike Klonsky's SmallTalk Blog: The case against Algebra II

Mike Klonsky's SmallTalk Blog: The case against Algebra II:

The case against Algebra II

    I'm reposting in full, this excellent Harper's piece by Nicholson Baker who has lots to say about Arne Duncan, Common Core standards, corporate reform, Race to the Top, and cold-war type educational competition.  
    To read it on-line at Harper's website, you will have to buy a year's subscription which I've alreay done on my Kindle. I am re-posting the whole piece here onSmallTalk, hoping that some others who dearly care about the future of public education, will read it and spread the word. Thanks to my friend Deb Meier for turning me on to Baker's provocative piece which she mentions quite favorablyon her own blog
    ESSAY — From the September 2013 issue of Harper's

    Wrong Answer

    The case against Algebra II

    by Nicholson Baker
    In 1545, Girolamo Cardano, a doctor, a wearer of magical amulets, and a compulsive gambler, published a math book in Latin called Ars Magna. The "great art" of the title was algebra. When Cardano was done, he knew he had come up with something huge and powerful and timeless; on the last page was the declaration, written in five years, may it last as many thousands. The equations in Ars Magna looked very different from the ones we are familiar with -- here, for instance, is how Cardano wrote the solution to x3 + 6x = 20: 
    Rv: cu. : R108 p : 10m : Rv :cu. R108m : 10 
    But the algebraic rules Cardano described and codified are variants of the techniques that millions of students are taught, with varying degrees of success, today. That's what’s so amazing and mysterious about the mathematical universe. It doesn't go out of date. It's bigger than history. It offers seemingly superhuman powers of interlinkage. It's true. Mathematics, said a professor named James Byrnie Shaw in 1918, is a kind of ancient sequoia of knowledge, rooted in the labors and learning of the dead:
    Its foliage is in the atmosphere of abstraction; its inflorescence is the outburst of the living imagination. From its dizzy summit genius takes its flight, and in its wealth of verdure its devotees find an everlasting holiday. 
    Then why, if math is so great and timeless and beautiful, do millions of people hate it so much? In particular, why do so many high school students hate algebra? On an opinion-gathering website called Amplicate, 86 percent of recent respondents registered a hatred for algebra -- putting it near the top of Amplicate's list of disliked high school subjects, just below geometry. Grant Wiggins, an educational consultant and former teacher, told me it was a "nasty gatekeeper course": the compulsory Greek grammar of the modern era. Lots of students love math, of course. It comes easily to them, or it doesn't come easily but they are willing to put in the hours and they enjoy the