Richard Cohen really is a fricken moron in advising a student to not worry about doing algebra.

PZ slaps him around fairly decently, but not enough.

Let’s start with math is good. If teaches basic logic and analytical skills and provides a background for a wide variety of skills. Cohen poo-poos it apparently because he doesn’t understand the connection between formal logic and algebra. That’s just hysterical in it’s own right that a man who is hired to write logical opinions doesn’t even understand the importance of the relationship between basic logic and basic math. I remember skipping all, but the tests in College Logic and getting a B+ because it was essentially basic mathematics. One guy I knew was taking it for the third time and essentially barely passed only after a couple of us pointed out that the first half of the class was based on variations of algebra.

Suggesting a computer can do math is cute, but also a fundamental misunderstanding of what computers actually do–they perform calculations that we tell them to do. I may use Stata to perform regression instead of doing it by hand, but if I don’t understand what is going on, I could not ask the program to do anything of use. The program provides me results that I can only understand with a strong understanding of matrix algebra and a decent understanding of calculus.

This is especially true of algebra since it requires one to understand the relationship of equations to actual real world situations where, unfortunately, the data available aren’t necessarily the data that allow one to do a simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division.

Any sort of job requiring inventory management automatically rests upon one’s ability to perform algebra and determine patterns for discrepancies.

Musicians often utilize it, I’m told for a variety of purposes. Anyone who uses a computer for more than simple windows and word processing tend to use algebra and certainly those programming use algebra as a base.

Geometry is essential to anyone who wants to be a carpenter, let alone an architect. Any sort of designer needs geometry.

My father often tells the use of high school geometry when he was discussing with a young engineer how to tell if two pipes were parallel. The engineer couldn’t figure out how to tell if they were. My dad took out a tape measure, measured the distance between two pipes at both ends and declared, they are parallel (for the pedantic, there could be a problem with this if the pipe was horizontally slanted, but this wasn’t a problem in the case). The engineer was baffled.

But most importantly, there is no possible way to understand complex policy issues if one can’t get through basic algebra. Richard Cohen is a pundit at one of the major national papers. One can’t balance a checkbook well without algebra let alone understand the basics of an economic argument about the relationship between unemployment and inflation. How does one even explain stagflation without understanding the algebra behind the traditional view of the two economic factors involved and how it broke down in the 1970s? You can’t.

Policy analysis is often full of competing claims, most of which include some sort of statistical analysis or even basic math like a word problem. For one to determine which one finds more compelling you need to be able to have a sense of what is being claimed. Here is a guy who does policy analysis and writing for a living.

PZ suggests that those who can’t do algebra are stuck stocking shelves often–but it’s worse than that. If you think about the average Walmart employee, most need algebra to do their job well. Cashiers need to be able to follow the math to count money. Stockers need to figure out how many items to bring to the shelves. Managers need many levels of math to compare sales, manage inventory, and layout the floor. Even with modern retail businesses working from detailed plans to promote homogeneity across stores, one needs to often fix those plans that are often not as accurate as thought.

This threw me for a loop

In truth, I don’t know what to tell Gabriela. The L.A. school district now requires all students to pass a year of algebra and a year of geometry in order to graduate. This is something new for Los Angeles (although 17 states require it) and it is the sort of vaunted education reform that is supposed to close the science and math gap and make the U.S. more competitive. All it seems to do, though, is ruin the lives of countless kids. In L.A., more kids drop out of school on account of algebra than any other subject. I can hardly blame them.

As I remember, even back in the 1980s we had to take 2 years of math to graduate in Illinois as a state requirement–am I wrong? I know that my District pretty much required 3 for everyone since they, stupidly, assumed all students should be in college prep tracts (not stupid to require 3 years, stupid to assume that sort of tract is good for all students). Of course, most colleges require at least Algebra and Geometry at the high school level for admittance, some require the second Algebra level as well.

It is odd that he says that writing well is the pinnacle of reasoning ability, seeing as he can’t write very well.

“Suggesting a computer can do math is cute, but also a fundamental misunderstanding of what computers actually do–they perform calculations that we tell them to do.”

Saying computers do math is equivalent to saying that computers write books. As I daily strive to prove on my blog, when it comes to computers: Garbage In Garbage Out

Even in the St. Louis (MO) Public Schools, I took basic algebra in freshman year of high school, geometry in sophomore year, “advanced algebra” in junior year, and trigonometry in senior year.

Many kids in an accelerated track had already taken algebra in 8th grade – I did too, and I got an A; but I didn’t feel confident enough in my mastery of it so I took it again. Today, a few schools offer algebra in 7th grade, and geometry in 8th grade. So you’d have to pass them even to get into high school!

I’m not quite sure of the real value of matrix algebra and trig to non-scientists; but both basic algebra and especially geometry are pretty important.

I graduated HS in 1985 from Mattoon High, and at that time, 1 year of math was sufficient to graduate. It didn’t even have to be algebra–they had a functional math class that taught fractions, percentages etc.

I hate Richard Cohen more than virtually everyone, and all you people who agree with me in saying that he is a complete and total ‘butt head’ are amazing! i love you all! richard cohen has no idea what he is talking about…as a math obsessor…i would know……LOVE Y’ALL! YOU ARE AMAZING!

Thank you all for helping me to explain to my son why he is learning Algebra in grade 9!