Mark Gritter (markgritter) wrote,
Mark Gritter

"Applications" and the Usefulness of Algebra

I'm reading Tribute to a Mathemagician and I just love the essay by Underwood Dudley: "Vive Recreational Mathematics".

But the problems in the [algebra text]book are hardly practical. Here is one:
An investment club decided to buy $9000 worth of stock with each memmber paying an equal share. But two members left the club, and the remaining members had to pay $50 more apiece. How many members are in the club?

Were this a practical problem, one that really needed to be solved, the method of solution would be to ask a member of the club how many members it has. The member will know. If the member responds with a conundrum like the textbook problem, the member should be beaten about the head until he or she promises to behave in a more civilized manner.

[I sometimes feel this way about RPG "puzzles".]

If algebra were all that relevant to life and work, textbook writers would have no trouble at all in including relevant problems. There would be thousands of them. They could just pick any job and choose the first quadratic equation problem that they came to. That authors can't include them is evidence that there aren't any. Authors should stop trying to fool their students....

I found another essay of his, "Is Mathematics Necessary?", which covers some of the same territory.

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, the Star Tribune opines that "It would be a disservice to students to reduce expectations." on the 11th-grade math test while simultaneously arguing that we should... well... reduce expectations for the next graduating class, more than half of whom likely cannot pass. (Last year only 1/3rd did.)
Tags: article, math
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