Recently Marilyn Vos Savant, from the “Ask Marilyn” article of Parade Magazine (December 6, 2015), received the question “Do you think algebra should be required in our schools?” Marilyn’s short answer was “Yes.” Her emphasis lay in the fact that algebra is a branch of mathematics that teaches students logic – how to think rather than what to think.
The mathematics branch of algebra is certainly an exercise in abstract thinking with symbols and structures to represent relationships in mathematics that justifies our operations in arithmetic. With the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, students are encouraged to manage and work through the reasons many of the algorithms is arithmetic work. These comprehensive methods of teaching arithmetic will contribute to a better understanding of the structure of mathematics and science.
Algebra is a foundation for topics in chemistry, economics, physics, statistics, and architecture. There is a plethora of technology that we use every day that works for us because someone knew enough about algebra to put together relationships to make our GPS, computer, cell phone, microwave oven, and car work for us.
Marilyn’s analogy to studying algebra in mathematics is similar to athletic training that includes various types of exercise equipment rather than always using one machine, such as a rowing machine. In order to be physically fit, we should be doing kinesthetic as well as aerobic methods of physical training. In like manner, in order to be intellectually fit, many areas of study should be included and algebra is certainly one of them.
Galileo is quoted as saying “Mathematics is the alphabet in which God has written the universe.” Keep in mind that algebra uses the alphabet to delineate numeric relationships, mathematical algorithms, and logic. So it appears that Galileo would have agreed with Ms. Vos Savant that algebra should be required in our schools.