Hurdles to Education

In today’s New York Times, Andrew Hacker, the author of a book that has long been on my “to read” list: Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — and What We Can Do About It wrote that in his opinion Algebra isn’t necessary for all students.  I really must agree.

As 21st century leaders and students we must ask ourselves whether the conventional wisdom of the mid-20th century applies to us.  Algebra is quite necessary for building of 21st century technology and solutions in programming, economics, engineering or research science – but is it necessary that everyone knows how to build these technologies?  I’m not talking about opportunity to learn – everyone should have the opportunity to take all classes – but as every student does not have the same skillset let alone the same interest, should every student be forced into the same math requirements?  And if so what should those requirements be?

Hacker brings up an alternative to the traditional algebra-geometry-trigonometry-calculus path that all high school graduates must make it at least halfway through before receiving a diploma:

Thus mathematics teachers at every level could create exciting courses in what I call “citizen statistics.” This would not be a backdoor version of algebra, as in the Advanced Placement syllabus. Nor would it focus on equations used by scholars when they write for one another. Instead, it would familiarize students with the kinds of numbers that describe and delineate our personal and public lives.

We as citizenry must decide how much information an individual can be required to learn before they can be a responsible citizen.  Currently, we blindly push everyone toward the same STEM career path without regard for their own skillset or the changing market dynamics that may require intellectual development in non-math fields.  Does this 20th century model really work?

on equality

There is all the difference in the world between treating people equally and attempting to make them equal. While the first is the condition of a free society, the second means as DeTocqueville describes it, a new form of servitude.

Friedrich August von Hayek