Someone in a Facebook feed I look at has dragged out an old saw seeking to sever high school math from the curriculum in favor of "practical" learning like now to get a loan and pay one's taxes.

I must demur. Of course, the subjects he prefers to mathematics are all useful and practical and should perhaps be included in the curriculum. Many of us who received academic credit for carburetor repair, garment hemming, and making a wooden lazy-susan tray for our moms are still alive.

Algebra 2 is merely one topic among many despised subjects required for post-secondary education. Perhaps we should also excise geometry — just a bunch of nice shapes, or trigonometry — after all, who would ever need to calculate the volume of an irregularly-shaped swimming pool or the wind resistance of a moving vehicle? And all those languages? Auf wiedersehen, Deutsch; vaya con Dios, español!

All of his favored subjects are routine record-keeping tasks that can be learned in a few weeks and are primarily a matter of rote practice and execution. E.g., I learned the rudiments of mortgage finance one afternoon in 1975 when I set out to buy my first house. I was able to do that, because mortgage finance, after all, is little more than the type of formula learned in, yes, Algebra 2. Retirement planning is similarly an exercise in multivariate analysis using simultaneous equations (yep, A2 again). Furthermore, they can in many cases be performed by machines (aka computers). Most of today's teens will do those tasks with apps on their cell phones; if none of them takes A2, how will they know whether they're being cheated?

In contrast, linear and non-linear algebra are tools for analyzing new and unexpected events, procedures, policies and for extrapolating future options from past experience. To suggest that one can simply be substituted for the other is facile at best. Those who do not understand the mathematics that define processes like college loans, credit, mortgages, and taxes will be forever at the mercy of those who do. Trust me, your banker, your banker's boss, that annoying agent from the IRS, and their lawyers all took Algebra 2.

Momentum

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