The Forum | General Education

Professor Andrew Hacker channels Teen Talk Barbie

February 26, 2016 by Michael B. Poliakoff

Professor Andrew Hacker’s interview (“Who Needs Advanced Math? Not Everybody,”) calls to mind Teen Talk Barbie, who used to say, “Math class is tough!” At least she did until the American Association of University Women persuaded Mattel to recall this mindlessly designed toy before it convinced little girls that it’s OK to fear math. Hacker doubles down on Teen Talk Barbie, extending her sentiments to some 8 million high-school and college students—male and female. Algebra and geometry, he argues, offer little to most students and keep those who might otherwise succeed from earning degrees. Yet employers, notes Project Achieve, for good reason value higher-order mathematics. Serious math trains the mind and provides the technical competence to solve real-world problems. Instead of trying to improve graduation rates by removing the demanding subjects essential for the modern world, how about working on effective teaching? By subtracting algebra, we will have used the worst math of all: a steep inverse relation between degrees and intellectual skills.


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