Q&A #1739

Teachers' Lounge Discussion: Purpose of studying algebra

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From: RON

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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