(An excerpt from a family conversation over email discussing this article: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2016/03/algebra_ii_has_to_go.html. In it the author argues that Algebra II doesn’t belong in the standard high school curriculum anymore. She says that there are other more useful courses that could be substituted (statistics for example), and that it is a crippling requirement for high school graduation. Many high school students fail to graduate solely because of the Algebra II requirement.)
“I personally was never bad at math, but during high school I hated taking the liberal arts classes. English in particular I despised - perhaps partly because of my consistent score of 88% on every essay I wrote ever. However some of the arguments made could be swapped around to attack other subjects - why do we take English and read old books if it doesn’t affect our careers?
During my high school career this is probably what I would have felt, but after taking a couple of ‘gen ed’ courses in college I think I see things differently. A lot of my classmates try and do anything to not take the gen eds - APs, summer classes, online courses, go looking online to see which professors give out the most A’s. I think this is such a waste. My gen ed courses have been some of my favorite and most interesting courses I’ve taken - whether it be the history of masculinity and femininity in the US, American literature, Texas history, or creative problem solving. Once upon a time college was about learning to think and learning to learn (a liberal arts education), and I still believe in that dream.
College has moved pretty far in the direction of vocational schools now. Parents encourage kids to think of them like that, kids encourage their peers to think like that. Like I said earlier most of my classmates disdain their gen eds.
I would argue that Algebra II could be considered as one such ‘mind expanding’, ‘liberal arts’ gen ed. As her husband argues, well taught math encourages people to think differently. However the caveat here is that the math has to be well taught. I think math is a very easily mistaught. Math can be very insightful as a subject, but most people don’t know how to teach it correctly. I firmly believe that anyone can learn math, but most people ‘are not math people’ because their teachers were poor.
Does it make sense to teach algebra II to a student who doesn’t have the background skills to be able to learn it? No. But I would argue algebra II is not the problem - the system of math education is. Unfortunately that’s probably not going to be solved anytime soon.”