LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Lafayette Harrison High School math teacher Doug Klumpe likes a good debate.
When he read a recent New York Times op-ed titled "Is Algebra Necessary?" that's exactly what he got.
"There are so many inflammatory statements in this article, it's a crime," Klumpe said with a laugh after reading the article.
In the opinion piece published July 28, author Andrew Hacker, an emeritus professor of political science at Queens College and the City University of New York, argues for a new approach to mathematics education.
He says about 6 million high school students struggle each day with algebra, only to find that the formulas and lessons they were taught in the classroom seldom apply to the mathematical situations they face out of school.
"There are many defenses of algebra and the virtue of learning it," Hacker wrote. "Most of them sound reasonable on first hearing; many of them I once accepted. But the more I examine them, the clearer it seems that they are largely or wholly wrong."
Klumpe and his students disagree. Although Klumpe agrees that the high school approach to math isn't perfect, algebra skills contribute to a much larger understanding of math-related concepts.
"Algebra is the language of mathematics," Klumpe told the Journal & Courier (http://on.jconline.com/SiNVnu ). "If you're going to understand even basic mathematics, you need to understand the language."
When Klumpe gave some of his students copies of the article for discussion, many of the students had the same reaction.
"I think it would be silly to cut a core class just because it's too challenging," senior Rachel Taylor said. "It might not come naturally to you, but you're not successful in a class because it comes naturally to you. You're successful in a class because you work at it."
In the article, Hacker suggests it remains unclear that "the math we learn in the classroom has any relation to the quantitative reasoning we need on the job."
A tour through a manufacturing plant, such as Lafayette's Subaru of Indiana Automotive plant, Klumpe said, will disprove that.
"The mathematics even the people on the floor have to understand may not be pushing variables around like Xs and Ys ... but the analysis required to understand what they're doing does involve skills used in algebra," Klumpe said.
Take for example a problem Klumpe posed to his algebra classes Friday: "A local car dealer is offering a special where all used cars are 40 percent off their normal price. A car that has a normal price of $5,600 is part of the sale. You only have $3,000. Can you buy the car (not including taxes)?"
The algebraic equation: 60/100(equals)X/5,600. The "X'' comes out to be $3,360. So, no, you wouldn't have enough to buy the car with $3,000 in your pocket.
Though the mathematics that students will face outside of school may not be identical to those problems posed in the classroom, senior Sophia Fox said, "That's true for every subject."
"In English," she said, "I (won't be) learning vocab words every week, but these are the tools that help us become successful in the future."
Another facet of Hacker's argument is that the challenge of algebra could cause students to drop out of high school or college. One in four ninth-graders fail to finish high school, according to Hacker, who cites algebra as a possible factor.
Senior Ryan Madden said he's no stranger to struggling to grasp some math concepts. But Hacker's charge doesn't stick, he said.
"When I was in algebra, I struggled to learn it and make it work," he said. "But once I put the effort in to learn it, all of math classes following it became easier. You just need to put the effort in."
Information from: Journal and Courier, http://www.jconline.com