Q&A #1739

Teachers' Lounge Discussion: Purpose of studying algebra

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From: RON <rselby@cinci.rr.com>
To: Teacher2Teacher Public Discussion
Date: 2003060900:23:18
Subject: Re: : Purpose of studying algebra

Your response seems to make it clear that we may differ in our basic
ideas of the purposes of education in general, mathematics in
particular. A few comments on your response follow.

My use of the word "instilled" did not mean in any way to imply an
unwarranted indoctrination. My dictionary gives as the primary
definition of the word "instilled" to be "to infuse by small drops".
My somewhat parenthetical phrase "assuming the parents are worthy of
that trust" was intended to imply a sense of the parents having earned
that trust over a period of time. By making demands and giving advice
that have generally led the child to believe that positive results
will follow, the parents will earn or "instill" the trust. 

As far as treating teenage students as "anyone" goes ( i.e. your
comment that "before anyone puts in earnest work ..."), that seems to
imply a sense of adulthood and free will that they generally do not
possess. While in a philosophical sense they may be able to make their
own decisions, in a more practical sense they are heavily bound to
their parents/guardians for support in the basic needs of food,
shelter, clothing, protection, etc.  That usually means following a
set of directions which may or may not match their own personal
desires of the moment. After all, if teenagers were generally making
decisions which others deemed to be productive, not dangerous, and
workable to the satisfaction of society, they would be deemed to be
independent and responsible for themselves at a much earlier age.

As far as the burden falling on "the instructor that requires the
subject be learned", the instructor has little if any power to
"require" that a particular subject be learned. In order for the
instructor to make learning a requirement of the student, the
instructor must have some real power over the student. In general,
that is clearly not the case. The instructor may be able to give a
grade in a subject and ultimately affect the graduation of the
student, however, if those issues are not truly priority items for the
current survival of the student then that ficticious power may in
reality be overrated.
The long term survival of the student is once again a matter not for a
mathematics instructor, but for the parents. The majority of people in
the world live their lives without much formal education. It seems
presumptious to claim that they are "better off" with any particular
type of formal study, e.g. mathematics.

As far as the goal of a teacher being "to broaden the herd", that type
of decision is hopefully left to the individual instructor. I am sure
that there are many instructors worldwide with a great variety of
personal philosophies regarding WHY THEY TEACH.

This type of academic exchange is something which seems to be missing
in general in public education in the United States. The issues
seriously discussed are usually monetary in nature. The idea of
meeting the needs of the individual may be preached, but the bottom
line seems to be assembly line in nature for the general good of our
society as a whole. It is not clear that this somewhat utilitarian
philosophy is best, simply because "best" is a debateable concept. If
utilitarianism were universally accepted, then many of the greatly
respected minds throughout history who were not utilitarians were
grievously incorrect. Who is it that truly believes they are the one
to decide for the rest of the people?

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