> Questions. When are people supposed to learn algebra?
In an algebra course.
> Or, > are they supposed to learn algebra at all?
Yes. However, the ability of computers and calculators to perform algebraic calculations, and the fact that students will use that ability whether we like it or not, may mean we need to rethink what we teach in algebra. Perhaps we should concentrate more on teaching students to judge output from an algebraic calculation, and less on teaching them to produce it.
> Are we advocating passing students through calculus with at > best a rudimentary knowledge of algebra.
As far as I remember, we were doing this long before calculus reform.
In both traditional and reform calculus, students with poor algebra don't do very well. However, in a reform course they have the chance to use other skills, such as geometric intuition, or problem-solving skills. These skills are not irrelevant to calculus, and students who have and demonstrate them should get credit for them. Presumably the lack of algebraic skills will cost them a grade point or two, as it should.
> Isn't this (or is this) the > equivalent of passing students who can't read at grade level?
You are comparing passing individual courses with passing a whole year of school. I would have no objection to a student who can't read at grade level but who is good at mathematics being given a pass in mathematics and a fail in reading. But it doesn't work that way at school; either you go on to the next year or you don't. So I don't see how the analogy works.