Writer using algebra on a regular basis


In response to the Ruth Lilley letter on math education.

I will say I do use algebra on a regular basis; as an engineer, for me it’s pretty well inescapable. But, I will also say, as it was taught in my high school and as it was being taught when I tutored a local high schooler a couple years ago, it was mostly useless and painful. My algebra and geometry skills got to be decent when we used them for ballistic motion in high school physics.

Working in banking, I expect you understand compound interest quite well. We don’t seem to teach that at all today. If we did, we wouldn’t have college graduates saying they can’t understand why they owe more now than when they left school. But the credit card companies do really well off of that lack of understanding so maybe there’s a reason.

Simple applications of basic principles make them easier to understand. Keeping track of units is an example, you should not need a degree or apprenticeship to figure cubic yards of concrete if pouring 30×50 feet four inches thick.

When we teach kids in elementary school how to check their answers, we are effectively introducing them to algebra. Those word problems we hated in grade school are an effective introduction to algebra; write equations on what information you are given, solve for the unknown and suddenly, you have done higher math.


Newton Falls


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