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Harper's Makes the Case Against Algebra 2

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Harper's Magazine weighs in on the debate over expanding Algebra 2 to all high school students.

"Wrong Answer: The case against Algebra II," by the novelist Nicholson Baker, argues that the course should not be forced on mathematics-hating students or required for college.

Students, he writes in the September issue, "are forced, repeatedly, to stare at hairy, square-rooted, polynomialed horseradish clumps of mute symbology that irritates them, that stop them in their tracks, that they can't understand."

"The homework is unrelenting, the algorithms get longer and trickier, the quizzes keep coming," Baker writes. "Sooner or later, many of them hit the wall. They fail the course and have to take it again. And then again."

He examines the textbook Algebra 2 Common Core, from Pearson, and concludes it is "a highly efficient engine for the creation of math rage: a dead scrap heap of repellent terminology, a collection of spiky, decontextualized, multistep mathematical black-box techniques ..."

After examining U.S. Secretary of Education (and former Chicago school chief) Arne Duncan's support for universal Algebra 2, Baker finds it ironic that, in his view, the nation essentially had the same debate a century ago, with University of Chicago professors leading the movement to make subjects such as algebra, geometry, and trigonometry electives rather than required courses.

Education Week's Erik W. Robelen covered this debate in a June story that examined the movement for universal Algebra 2 and its relation to the Common Core standards of learning.

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