| Jan 6, 2020

5 Reasons Algebra Might Be the Worst Subject in School

When education is one-size-fits-all, students suffer, but a personalized educational experience leads to success, regardless of career choice.
Algebra in school
By Mark Siegel |

3 minutes

Algebra is beautiful.

No, don’t go anywhere – I’ll clarify.

Algebra is beautiful to me.

I love it, I love to teach it, and it has a major role in the education of many of our youth. In fact, the essential underlying skills are something I believe we can find useful in many aspects of life … but maybe not always in the form of algebra.

To many people, however, algebra is nothing short of a nightmare. Maybe they got through it, maybe they didn’t, but they certainly don’t ever want to talk about it again.

It’s necessary, though, right? You’ve got to pass algebra to graduate high school, to score well on standardized tests, to get into college. If you don’t conquer algebra, you’re doomed.

At least that’s what we’ve been taught.

In reality, though, algebra might just be the worst subject in school. Here are five reasons why:

1. It stops students from graduating high school

Algebra II is required by most American school systems for graduation. However, a study conducted by researchers at Washington University indicated that stringent math requirements adversely affect dropout rates.

In other words, students who might otherwise obtain a high school diploma are so discouraged by the difficulty of algebra classes that they end up dropping out of school entirely.

2. It’s a stumbling block in the college admissions process

Even if algebra isn’t required for graduation, it’s typically necessary for college admission. “Not meeting the academic threshold” is listed at the top of common reasons college applications are rejected.

Additionally, algebra is generally considered a stepping-stone to calculus, and not everyone needs calculus — many college students are instead permitted (or required) to take statistics or other rigorous analytic coursework more relevant to their majors and their careers.

Fortunately, many colleges and universities are re-thinking this approach, with some already dropping algebra from their list of required credits. Until that trend really takes hold, however, students from all around the country risk finding themselves at a disadvantage in the college application process, all because of this one class.

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3. It’s unnecessary in most careers

Although algebra is used in innumerable ways and in forms most people never consider, the majority of adults don’t actually perform the math themselves. Writers of an article like this one, for example, are impacted by high-level math in the form of a laptop, wifi, and an architecturally-engineered building specifically designed for human comfort … but they didn’t need to actually do any of that math.

Millions of people with careers in history, languages, and the arts are perfectly capable of success without the ability to factor polynomials.

4. It could easily be replaced with more relevant math courses

Few adults routinely need higher-level algebra skills, but almost everyone needs to be able to apply more basic math to everyday life. Classes in finance, statistics, computer programming, and business would be far more beneficial to the average student, and they wouldn’t be superfluous to those that excel.

5. It doesn’t contribute to overall quality of education

In a 2009 study, 76% of American high school students completed Algebra 2, and the Common Core Curriculum, adopted by forty-seven states and territories, required it for graduation.

Finland, however, which is often touted as having one of the best education systems in the world (and routinely outperforms the United States on international standardized testing), adopts a far more personalized approach to education.

Should algebra be relegated to the past?

Absolutely not. It is vital for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, as well as being beautiful!

But perhaps we should consider that not everyone believes it to be beautiful, and not everyone plans to be an engineer.

Let algebra be an option. Let finance and statistics be options, too.

When education is one-size-fits-all, students suffer, but a personalized educational experience leads to success, regardless of career choice.

By Mark Siegel
Contributor

Assistant Headmaster, The Delphian School

Mark Siegel is the Assistant Headmaster at The Delphian School view profile

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