Stevieslaw: I am the King of England

Stevieslaw: I am the King of England
In my freshman year at college, my calculus professor set out to show the students in his class how woefully undereducated they were. He offered up the following challenge: If he could prove that 2=1, than we must recognize that he was not only a college professor, but also the King of England and we must address him as his highness for the entire semester. The proof involves some simple algebra and most of my (engineering undergrad and grad) students pick up the trick easily. If
a=b, and we multiply by a,
we have aa=ab and by subtracting bb: aa-bb=ab-bb.
Factoring gives (a+b)(a-b)=b(a-b), and dividing by (a-b) gets us to
a+b=b and since a=b
then 2b=b.
Dividing by b, 2=1.
Got that? If Andrew Hacker, writing in the prestigious NY Times Sunday Review, has his way your children won’t. Andrew argues in “Is Algebra Necessary?” that we should drop the teaching of algebra (and calculus and trigonometry) because our students’ inability to learn it is the main reason they drop out of high school and college. Thank goodness he doesn’t suggest that the students try harder to learn it and the teachers harder to teach it. No. Andrew believes that by forcing these students to leave school because they can’t pass math, we are decimating our future talent pool. Clearly, there would be many more lttle Shakespeares, Bachs, and Picassos, if only the little darlings weren’t stuck on their math homework.
In a country that no longer values the teaching of history, literature or science while simultaneously decrying the loss of the American “edge,” the idea is not surprising. Still, I am somehow not convinced that our budding Shakespeare, brimming with self-esteem, will be able to write much more than his or her name. More likely the genius will, on finding himself outside on some sunny summer day, wonder just what kind of fool could ever believe the earth rotated around the sun.
Oh, and Andrew, drop algebra and most of your budding geniuses will certainly still be capable of finding other ways to fail.

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