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The Therapy Sessions
Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Richard Cohen's war on algebra

Washington Post Columnist Richard Cohen has come up with a brilliant plan to help American high school students compete with the math whiz kids from Asia.

Let's get rid of the hard classes, written as "advice" to a failing high school student:

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....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.

...It has its uses, I suppose, and I think it should be available for people who want to take it. Maybe students should even be compelled to take it, but it should not be a requirement for graduation.

Seriously, I love it when someone "reasons" as Cohen does:

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.

Why, Cohen is right.

And further, most of the great classics of literature are available on VHS or in Cliff's Notes.

Why should we inconvenience teenagers by forcing them to read Shakespeare?

History? You can read all that stuff on the internet! Geography? That's why we have maps, silly. And who ever diagrams a sentence in the real world?

That's reason, Cohen-style. Take it to its natural conclusion and we can just let kids take whatever they want: they could spend all their time in Sex Ed and Fingerpainting!And we can hire Asians to do the math for us.

How long do you think that would work?

Seriously, the purpose of education is to expose children to as much learning as possible. It should not be limited to "life skills." It should be broad spectrum, a true "liberal arts" approach.

Mathematics is problem sovling, and problem solving is "reason."

Of course, Cohen is rational enough to have been a celebrated liberal columnist at the Washington Post for two decades. Pretty good for someone who was stumped by the concept of graphing a line.

But it tells you something about modern liberal thought. (Though I should add that Washington conservatives rarely even try to sound intellectual anymore.)

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