I came across a meme on Facebook the other day that said, “Just checked, and I didn’t use algebra once today.”
The implication of this facile message is that algebra–and by extension, any subject you didn’t like when you were in school–was a pointless exercise, a useless time-waster, a needless instrument of torture that you were forced to endure by a cruel and unfeeling education system.
But nothing could be further from the truth!
In the first place, despite the fact that you didn’t notice it, you used the skills you learned in middle-school and high-school algebra dozens, maybe even hundreds, of times today. I know, I know… you didn’t use a single x, y, or = sign, you didn’t solve a single quadratic equation, you didn’t follow a single identity equation to its logical conclusion even once. But that’s not the point. Multiple times today, you used the skills you learned in algebra unconsciously, because you were busy thinking about other things. And what you really learned in those tedious algebra classes was how to think.
I discovered this crucial fact in 1976, when I was in university. I had completed by B.Sc. degree in Zoology, and realizing that my degree was worthless in terms of finding gainful employment unless I went on to graduate school, I elected to take a second degree in Education. This entailed a single year at the time, which involved a year of Education classes that I thought were ridiculously easy at the time, and essentially worthless except that they would get me to my goal, i.e., a teaching certificate and a decent job. But after only a couple of days in class, I became fascinated by the process of how kids (and adults, to some degree) learn, and what the benefits of learning are.
To cut to the chase, algebra teaches kids incredibly useful skills that they need to function in a complex society. Among these are such essential skills as higher-order pattern recognition and the most critically important cognitive skill of all, logic.
Algebra teaches us, by recognition and repitition, the process of logical thought. If a, then b, and if b, then c,, means that by logical extension, if a, then c.
“Oh, yeah, everybody knows that,” the simpleton scoffs.
Well, everybody does not know that. If they did, we wouldn’t be facing a crisis of unemployment and personal economic disaster all over the country. Huge numbers of Americans are not employable because they don’t employ anything above the most rudimentary logic in their lives. Sure, they understand if a, then b. But that’s about it. “If I don’t get some money, I won’t be able to eat.” Which is about as complicated as the untrained mind can function. The extension of logic that gets someone from Premise A to Conclusion C, let alone Conclusion F, G, or Z, is beyond them. So they can’t perform the higher-order functions necessary in any form of skilled labor.
Logic is essential to the application of the mind to complex processes. People who are incapable of using higher-order logic are cognitive cripples. And since our nation has advanced to being a highly technological civilization, we can’t afford to allow our schools to keep spitting out cognitive cripples and falsely calling them High School Graduates.
If every American knew that, and applied that process to life, we wouldn’t be in the mess America is in today. We would have an ample supply of educated, disciplined thinking people to fill our workforce. And we would have ample jobs to employ them. But we don’t have those things, in no small part due to the fact that the ignorant and evil-minded among us have been crying for 50 years that algebra is a tool of the bourgeoisie, or that algebra is not needed in “real life”, or that it is a tool of the white man to oppress the man of color. So we have dumbed down our schools. We have made algebra “optional”. We have eliminated the most important tool for teaching our children logic that we have in our arsenal. And as a result we have a population led by emotion, by impulse, and by the cult of celebrity… all of which would be impossible to imagine if logic had not ceased to be at the core of our collective consciousness.
This is very dangerous for America.
America is supposed to be a nation of laws, and all of us are equal before the law. And by logical extension, if that principle is undermined, the foundation of America is in jeopardy. It’s simple logic. And we ignore that logic at our peril.
Think about this example: if someone violates National Security law with their private communication, that person is by definition a criminal. If a, then b, right? And if someone violates that law, in fact commits a felony by their action, that person is by definition a felon, right? If b, then c, right? Okay: so if that person violates the law, s/he can and should be prosecuted, convicted, and face all the consequences of being a felon, right?
Sure! You say. And I agree with you. Even if that person is a good person, who has done a lot of good, if they violate such a serious law, they should face the consequences. And that is exactly what happened to General David Patraeus when he violated our National Security laws.
But Hillary Clinton has by her own admission commited the same violation if not worse, and it seems she will not be held to the same law as General Petraeus was. She is by all logic a felon, pure and simple. And our laws say that a felon cannot vote, and cannot hold public office. Yet she is at this time the front-runner for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency. This defies logic!
And this is very, very dangerous for America.
Disparage algebra at your peril, people.