Algebra IS Necessary

I believe we can all agree that perseverance and confidence play a significant role in success.  No matter what example of success we come up with, we can safely say that confidence and perseverance played a key role.  For instance, confidence is built with each win we achieve, no matter how small.  However, we aren’t perfect, so we cannot count on perfect records and thus must persevere through the inevitable failures.  Taken together, confidence and perseverance are essential to any subsequent success.

A few weeks ago, I read an article in the New York Times Sunday Review entitled, “Is Algebra Necessary?”  The author, Andrew Hacker, suggested that the math requirements in our high schools and colleges are a leading contributor to high school and college drop out rates.  According to Hacker, “making math mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent.”  He also goes on to suggest that new classes should emerge addressing what he terms “citizen statistics.”  These courses would cover topics such as the Consumer Price Index, and help “familiarize students with the kind of numbers that describe and delineate our personal and public lives.”

I highly agree with his idea and believe there is a place for a course on citizen statistics, however, within a curriculum that covers Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, and other advanced courses.  In fact, I believe Hacker’s heart is in the right place.  He ultimately wants more students to succeed in school and subsequently in their lives.  I too want the same thing as I am sure does every educator.  The difference is that I believe there is still a place for a solid math education and we need to consider its benefits before we eliminate it.

In the next few paragraphs, I am going to address specific comments made by Mr. Hacker.  I will then close by coming full circle on my original thesis that confidence and perseverance are critical to success. Continue reading

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Why are More Mistakes Critical to Success?

Previously, I wrote a blog post about how spectacular mistakes can lead to spectacular success.  Without letting go of fear of the former, we cannot have the latter.  In this post I want to discuss why we should get excited about making mistakes – many of them.  Perhaps it’s poor writing fashion, but I will risk giving away the punch line up front:  with every mistake we make, we learn at least one thing that doesn’t work and have the opportunity to discover at least one correction.  If we look at it that way, our technique can only improve with every mistake we make, thus the more mistakes we make, the better off we are.

Since moving back to NYC from St. Louis, I have had significantly more opportunities to spend time with my baby niece.  In the last few months she has been working on walking.  I am not sure there is any better example by which to observe the learning process.  Babies have no sense of self-consciousness thus they cannot be hindered or distracted by it.  Babies simply try and try again.  I have watched my niece walk along the walls, furniture, or while supported by both hands.  One day I refused to take her other hand and only extended a finger for her to hold on to – she complied.  She was doing fine and then she lost her footing and she fell – broke my heart.  Continue reading

Why are Mistakes Good?

Mistakes are often penalized in our current educational system.  For instance, you raise your hand with a wrong answer and it’s often followed by “wrong, anyone else?”  Or you receive a grade on a test without ever exploring your mistakes in depth to learn what was done incorrectly and how it could have been approached differently or why it was very close but simply off by one or two minor details.  Another demonstration of this punishment system is the rewards and positive labels that are assigned to students that make few or no mistakes and conversely the negative labels assigned to those that do make mistakes.  Just imagine how poorly Thomas Edison would have scored in a class dubbed “Making a Light Bulb.”  He would have been “wrong” over 1,000 times! Continue reading