Letters to the Editor: Math can be hard and abstract. That’s not a reason to teach less of it

Math class
A 12th-grade student studies math and statistics at the Roybal Learning Center in Los Angeles.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: The piece by Jo Boaler and Steven D. Levitt reveals a blinkered view of what mathematics is and how it gets used in real-life problems such as data analysis. Data analysis and statistics are not mathematics; they are extra-mathematical subjects that rely heavily on mathematics.

There are foreseeable negative outcomes to replacing Algebra 2 with a course in data analysis for most college-bound high school kids. Students who studied data analytics would be at a grave disadvantage after high school if they wished to pursue any field of engineering and most pure or applied fields of natural science, such as, I don’t know, premed.

The current high school math curriculum has received vigorous discussion, particularly on the ways in which Algebra 2 may pose a harmful barrier to students who lack access to quality secondary education. That curriculum is not in any way sacred, but it deserves a better critique than this one.

John A. Morgan, La Cañada Flintridge



To the editor: It is surprising that no more than 12% of survey respondents report using algebra in their daily lives. This undercount is mostly likely due to those math skills being so ingrained that people do not even realize when they are using algebra.

If I am doing a home project that requires 20 screws, but only have eight on hand, I will use algebra to determine that the number I need to buy at the hardware store is 12 (in other words, “x = 12").

Kirk Norenberg, Redondo Beach



To the editor: People unfamiliar with abstract thinking typically don’t see a point in teaching it, which doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

The idea of making education practical is a good one long proposed by many, but “the answer” should come from adding courses, not from getting rid of all the courses you don’t like. Sure, teach data science, but not instead of algebra.

Extend the writers’ argument and see if there is no longer any point in teaching history, biology, literature, grammar or any of the rest. Instead, schools can teach kids to Google the answers to everything, order things online, and give away their personal information on social sites.

And because they already know how to do this, schools will get great marks on standardized evaluations.

David Van Nostrand, Boca Raton, Fla.

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