Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fermat's Dilemma

Is Algebra Necessary? Andrew Hacker, a political scientist writing in the New York Times, believes that too many students in high school and college are subjected to the ordeal of learning algebra. He spends much of the article claiming that algebra is both useless and harmful to most of the students forced to take this horrible subject. He goes on to point out that taking an algebra class often doesn't even lead to an appreciation of the cultural significance of mathematics as a whole:
I WANT to end on a positive note. Mathematics, both pure and applied, is integral to our civilization, whether the realm is aesthetic or electronic. But for most adults, it is more feared or revered than understood. It’s clear that requiring algebra for everyone has not increased our appreciation of a calling someone once called “the poetry of the universe.” (How many college graduates remember what Fermat’s dilemma was all about?)
He's absolutely correct here, college graduates don't remember anything at all about Fermat's dilemma - that's because it was never mentioned! He probably meant to say Fermat's Last Theorem, a widely known mathematical curiosity. The end of algebra by Alexandra Petri in the Washington Post is a clever and funny response to Hacker's screed.

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