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Writer commended for defending algebra


Anybody who questions the inclusion of algebra in a school’s curriculum needs to read Michael Apostol’s thoughtfully penned RDR column titled “Algebra and the common man.”

Many of this venerable subject’s detractors, who demand immediate relevance/value in the workplace, would excise algebra in a heartbeat were they in a position to do so. It is no secret that very few of us will ever have to find the rational zeros of a polynomial or multiply by the complex conjugate in order to perform the duties of our vocation. So the question becomes, “Is that a reason to consign algebra to the rubbish heap?”

Michael, despite his justified criticisms of how a student’s algebra proficiency is assessed on the beleaguered PARCC test, believes algebra hones one’s reasoning and logic skills. As a math educator, I am convinced that algebra (and other math disciplines) allows one to cope with indeterminacy in a structured fashion. To wit, the rental cost word problem in Michael’s column can be solved by giving a name (often X) to the original number of people sharing the $1,200 rent.

At this point, X is only the name of a value that has yet to be determined. However, one can write down the relationships that exist between F and the rest of the information given, to eventually determine the value of X lifting the fog of indeterminacy. I commend Michael for defending a subject that has withstood the test of time and will very likely remain a proud element of any credible curriculum.

Steven Young