Algebra Lament

Woe, my name is algebra.

I help people communicate about important relationships; people use me to predict future conditions.

Woe, my name is algebra.

I have been shunned and made fun of.  The fault is not mine; no, the fault is almost entirely that of ‘algebra courses’ taught without a focus on understanding, without attention to communication about the world.  The quadratic formula is not my fault!!

Woe, my name is algebra.

People think that I am another name for right answers to meaningless questions, that I am the effort to emulate some perfect series of steps to solve those meaningless questions.  I am not some worthless set of dance steps, steps being marketed in the absence of music or creativity.  Just because I can’t carry a tune doesn’t mean that I lack creativity!

Woe, my name is algebra.

I am the written language to communicate about matters quantitative.  Rejecting me is the rejection of the basic goals of education in the modern era.  For, how can people understand the world when all they can do is vaguely describe the qualitative traits … or calculate values for a few specific cases?  I may have faults, but ‘lack of clarity’ is not one of them!

Woe, my name is algebra.

My properties allow people to transition from a sum to a product, and to discover the almost magical explosion of options for working with expressions.  My properties allow people to express functions of variables in ways which uncover critical features of the relationships.  Instead of this beauty, most people are told that overly complicated trivial work is ‘algebra’.

Woe, my name is algebra.

I live in the core of science and society, despised solely for the company I’ve kept.  Did I have any say in that company?  Is it my fault that school mathematics is often taught in poor ways and with ‘outcomes’ which add no value for the learner?

Woe, my name is algebra.

My reputation has been ruined by others.  I am like a poor citizen who needs to be represented by public defenders who do not see my value.  The public defenders have good intentions about our students, but represent me in such a negative fashion that the majority of students conclude that I am worthless … and that they (the students) can never understand me.  My remote cousin with a similar name, ‘linear algebra’, has much better respect and cred.

Woe, my name is algebra.

I have been placed in two boxes.  One box is labeled “use only enough to get an answer”, perhaps to questions students might care about.  The other box is labeled “recipes for right answers to artificial questions”.  Does anybody put geometry in these boxes?  Does anybody put statistics in these boxes?  I can tell you that I seldom have any company in these boxes, and never for very long.  Let me out of the box!!

Woe, my name is algebra.

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