I grew up in one of those Judeo-Christian homes that apparently strike terror in the hearts of the likes of Betty Friedan, Alan Grayson and Kathryn Joyce. My parents never had sex until they got married to each other. Theirs is an enduring...

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Algebra Part Two- Should Algebra Be Required?

(Don't miss part one: "How Useful Is Algebra?")

Algebra is useful. So are a lot of other disciplines. It's useful to know engineering. It's useful to know medicine or computer programming. It's useful to know web design, or speak a second language fluently. It's useful to be proficient with a musical instrument, to know the ins-and-outs of auto mechanics, to know midwifery or be able to build a house. There is a lot of necessary knowledge in the world, but each person can't be required to learn everything, just because it's necessary that somebody know it.

I would encourage algebra, as an elective, like sewing, music, mechanics and web design, not up there with reading, writing and basic math. It's one of those activities that some young people take a natural interest in, but shun the moment you add the label "school". Dangle it in front of the child like a carrot in front of a mule, and it will become a consuming desire. Require it and the child will balk.

Of course, there are exceptions to this prediction- like me. I was forced. And I eventually like it- sort of the Green Eggs and Ham story.

God has designed each person to fill a purpose, and He has equipped each person with the necessary capacity to fill that purpose. God is big enough to design people with a greater interest, or aptitude for the skills required to fulfill that person's purpose. Is it wise to try to plug people into man-made holes, which God never designed for them to fit in?

Children are people too. And people are born to be free. We have found we can live together, the sixteen of us, in 1300 sq. ft., and still like each other, largely because Dad insists that if it isn't necessary, it isn't required. Necessary, in his book, would be developing a right relationship with the Lord, learning how to relate correctly to other people, having good character (I just repeated myself), a good attitude and a good work ethic (again). He requires us to learn to read, write, and figure (whole numbers, decimals and fractions).

Amazingly, when only the necessary is required, that leaves extra time and energy, and the other useful-but-not-necessary is learned as well. If a child is exposed to rich experiences and then left to be bored silly for awhile, he will develop a distaste for boredom. (No cheating allowed- where TV and computer games abound, valuable, genuine boredom is hard to come by.)

Eliminate or restrict TV and computers, require a lot of hands-on labor, reserve time for boredom, and make sure an Algebra text is the only reading material on hand for a month- or better yet, introduce the formulas that people actually use in their work, for instance, "Here's how to find voltage" - and you could be really surprised what interests develop. They might not be Algebra, but then again, that might not be a bad thing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is great and just what I have thought for some time. I loved algebra, but have found no real use for it (except the basics). Ok, I have, but it was only to help my son or my niece with algebra.

I have never practically needed to factor a polynomial or find the y-intercept of a slope in my job or life.

5:54 PM  

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