Is Algebra Necessary? Yes!

From time to time an academic makes an argument about how math isn’t all that important. Like this one in the NYTimes:

A TYPICAL American school day finds some six million high school students and two million college freshmen struggling with algebra. In both high school and college, all too many students are expected to fail. Why do we subject American students to this ordeal? I’ve found myself moving toward the strong view that we shouldn’t.

The article is a series of randomly thrown out and disconnected statements about how math might not be so important. The kind of non logical arguments you might expect from someone without a good grasp on math and logic. 🙂

It is true that I rarely use my math in my job as a software engineer. Where I use the math I learned in high school most often is on one of my hobbies, wood working. The moment you get beyond 90 degree angles on things, all that algebra and trig comes into play. A few years ago I created a set of built in shelves that had to deal with a 73 degree corner in my house, and have a sheet of pencil scribbles and trig functions to figure out all the cuts and sizes of pieces I’d need. I’ve got a host of custom built furniture in my house, all of which required algebra and trig to get right. And don’t even get me started on my deck.

The math you learn in high school is actually the math of carpenters and farmers. It’s a foundation for high math, but it’s real use is in much more concrete things. And that’s the reason why “Our civilization would collapse without mathematics.”

So the next time someone starts going on about how math is unimportant, look them in the eye and say: you’ve never built anything with your hands, have you?

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