Post Columnist: You Don’t Need Algebra, Just Accept You’re Stupid

Every once in a while someone in this town will say something so monumentally stupid that it takes a few days of staring at it to make any sense of it whatsoever, and Richard Cohen’s column last Thursday is one of them. In his column he asserts that no one really ever needs Algebra, it’s just something we force on kids to “make them smarter,” only Cohen says:

You will never need to know algebra. I have never once used it and never once even rued that I could not use it. You will never need to know — never mind want to know — how many boys it will take to mow a lawn if one of them quits halfway and two more show up later — or something like that. Most of math can now be done by a computer or a calculator. On the other hand, no computer can write a column or even a thank-you note — or reason even a little bit. If, say, the school asked you for another year of English or, God forbid, history, so that you actually had to know something about your world, I would be on its side. But algebra? Please.

Oh. My. God.

Please tell me you’re kidding? Seriously? More below the cut.

This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs
Because if that’s your reasoning, you shouldn’t ever have to read a novel in English class, take Physics, take Chemistry, or pretty much any class. Why not just tell people to walk right out of Banneker or Spingarn, Richard? Algebra isn’t just about manipulating equations, it’s about demonstrating logical abilities and the ability to frame cogent thought. This ain’t just about calculating the path of a parabola.

Richard, sooner or later someone’s going to tell you that writing teaches reasoning. This is a lie propagated by, among others, writers and writing teachers. Mathematics is the highest form of symbolic reasoning. This is a fact. Writing is not. The proof of this, Richard, is all the people in my high school who were whizzes at writing but did not know a thing about mathematics or physics or chemistry and could not set their own damn VCR clock so it read anything but 12:00. I can cite you, Richard, whose last name, Cohen, WILL be mentioned, who aced his writing final, but when called to the board to explain a simple circuit diagram, managed to electrocute himself on the simplest of machines. He was off by a whole order of magnitude on the amperage!

The problem is that scientists and mathematicians give you something to write about Richard. They’re the ones behind the Apollo Program, and DNA, and Biotech, and Radio and Television. All those things that you’re used to writing about couldn’t have come around if it weren’t for folks that might have been forced into taking Algebra, but developed a bit of a taste for it and made it part of their lives.

But you’re just a columnist. And they’re rocket scientists. Shouldn’t we want everyone to have the capability to become a rocket scientist? Even if they end up just a piddling columnist?

This post appeared in its original form at DC Metblogs

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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