# How Much Math is Enough?

Regular readers know that education policy is not my forte (although I have expressed some opinions), but there was a confluence of articles over the weekend that I feel the need to discuss here. The first was Andrew Hacker's outrageous op-ed in the *New York Times* suggesting that freshman college algebra is unnecessary. It contained such doozies as this:

It’s not hard to understand why Caltech and M.I.T. want everyone to be proficient in mathematics. But it’s not easy to see why potential poets and philosophers face a lofty mathematics bar. Demanding algebra across the board actually skews a student body, not necessarily for the better.

OK, not everyone is going to be an engineer. But *algebra*? Come on. Virtually everyone who goes to college should have encountered algebra in high school. Now, I might be biased by this because lately I have found myself wishing I had taken much more math as an undergraduate. But even though calculus might not be necessary for everyone, the ability to solve for a single variable seems essential in everyday life. (I could provide examples, but they would cover only a small subset of the things for which algebra can be used.)

John Patty has a better response than anything I could come up with at the moment, so go read it. If anything Patty is softer on Hacker than I would be, but he does a great job pointing out the logical flaws in Hacker's argument.

And finally, here is a piece from 2008 on the innumeracy of *college professors*. The bias against math and science in humanities departments is palpable. To be fair, many physicists and mathematicians have a similar antipathy toward the liberal arts. But if we are going to require art history, music appreciation and the like to broaden the minds of students (a requirement that I am not opposed to), then it would be a crime to omit such basic life skills as algebra. I am not saying that we all need to become engineers, but encouraging students to forgo math does not bode well for our future.