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"Math class is tough!" So spoke Teen Talk Barbie until the American Association of University Women persuaded Mattel to recall this role-model of mindlessness. Recently, Professor Andrew Hacker ("Is Algebra Necessary," NYT July 29, 2012) presented Barbie's sentiments on behalf of some 8 million suffering high school and college students—male and female.
Algebra, he argued, offers little to most students but keeps out or flunks out those who might otherwise succeed. So leave area and volume optimization problems to specialists, while all the rest mechanically staff the calculators? So too the quadratic formula, which requires abstract thought, but stretches the mind and shows how to make predictions that have real consequences? If we improve graduation rates by removing the subjects that demand cognitive growth, we will have used the worst math of all: a steep, inverse relation between self-esteem and competence.
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