I recently read an article that attempted to make a defense for why we should no longer force students to learn Algebra in high school. It made me want to throw up in my mouth a little bit.
I use Algebra almost daily, and I’m the director of a senior center and a journalism professor. I know stay-at-home moms who use their TI-85 calculators to do complex formulas every week.
Why has our American culture suddenly decided it’s OK to support mediocrity, or worse yet, sanction inferiority?
It’s not just because math comes easy to me that I say this. There are some important core skills and concepts that I struggled with throughout high school and college; at the top of the list is memorization and public speaking. So, because those things came difficultly to me (and still do), I should just not have to do them? Using that logic, shall we also say that if you’re not very good at following the law, perhaps you shouldn’t have to? It’s ludicrous.
Speech class gave me such fits that I spent an entire semester plotting new ways to call in sick when I had to speak in front of the class and various other ways to get out of it. It was no different in college. But when a chance for free tuition for my master’s degree studies in exchange for teaching freshman English, I was terrified, but grateful that someone had forced me to do this all before. I wasn’t a great public speaker, but I got better. And today, as a center director, I continue to build on this skill. Had you asked me in 10th grade if this thing I was so terrible and terrified of was ever going to benefit me in my adult life, I gladly would’ve written you a dissertation explaining why it would never be possible. And I may have been able to convince my parents, too, if I thought it would’ve done me any good (thanks, mom and dad, for not letting me off the hook).
I have bright young employees who cannot give you change for a $20. And I don’t mean coins; even dollar amounts, and the math eludes them. I have high school student workers who should be building to the prime of their education, and they cannot label a United States map, nor tell you the capital cities of any of the states (sometimes even our own). Some of them also can’t add up the quarter hours on their timesheets to save their lives.
Yes, I realize I am a knowledge geek. I would take classes and go to school for the rest of my life if I could. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are not doing our students any favors for their future lives if we do not equip them for the very basic tasks they will face. Not everyone wants to go to school for the rest of their lives, but most want to be able to support themselves in some type of job. If you can’t give change properly, fast food service jobs are even out of your league. I would hope that our educational system would be designed to equip our students for more exciting future hopes than flipping burgers