A lively argument against the assumption that if the United States is to stay competitive in a global economy, our students require advanced training in mathematics.
In this book, Hacker (Emeritus, Political Science/Queens Coll.; Mismatch: The Growing Gulf Between Women and Men, 2003, etc.) expands on his piece, “Is Algebra Necessary?” which appeared in the New York Times in 2012. The author is dismayed that students are required to pass mandated mathematics courses, pointing out that it is the principal academic reason for the high dropout rate in American high schools and colleges. He shows how the requirement filters out talented liberal arts students, that math in the workplace bears little relationship to math in the classroom, and that the claim that studying math instills desirable modes of thought is built on unverified premises. Further, he alleges that there is no shortage of qualified Americans to fill positions in the computer industry but that the industry prefers to hire foreigners at entry-level positions to keep wages low. To bolster his arguments, the author sprinkles his text with pages of speech balloons containing quotes from former students who agree with him, and he inserts difficult-to-read white-on-black math problems made to look like an exercise in chalk on a classroom blackboard. Such devices are superfluous; Hacker’s prose is direct and clear. The final chapter, “Numeracy 101,” one of the most fascinating and rewarding in the book, features samples of the kind of material on quantitative reasoning Hacker believes should be taught and that he developed for an experimental introductory mathematics course. Readers who never took algebra, geometry, or calculus, or who have no recollections of what they learned in those courses, will be challenged and engaged by the exercises.
Hacker’s arguments may convince some anxious students and be welcomed by their parents, but the reaction from academics is sure to be mixed.