“WHY DO I HAVE TO LEARN ALGEBRA???”
There is hardly a parent who hasn’t heard the plaintiff cry, at some point in their child’s school career, “Why do I have to learn algebra?” If it isn’t algebra, then something else like history. “I’m never going to use this stuff!”
This is usually the moment when most parents tend to flounder on how to respond. The answers can range from the somewhat reasonable, “Maybe you’ll end up an engineer or architect!” to the frustrated last resort, “Because being a student is your job and this is part of the job!”
(It’s entertaining to muse the reaction of those students who really did become an engineer or architect. “Oh, that’s a great idea. Let me get back to my math homework! Thanks, Mom!” Has that ever happened?)
WHAT IS THE ALGEBRA ANSWER?
So, what is the right answer? How do we explain something that we probably asked our parents years ago and probably received a version closer to “I don’t want to hear it. Go do your homework before I smack you!”
I don’t think there is a single answer that will work for everyone, but I will offer some options.
Calmly discuss the roots of our education system. Our curriculum was developed in the late 1800’s by Victorians. Their motive was two-fold; to standardize an unruly, inconsistent system and mold young people to fit into society’s needs, such as factory workers.
The basic design of the system hasn’t changed in the last 130 plus years. The class curriculum is part of the grand design and shouldn’t be questioned.
Expect a lot of eye-rolling with this approach.
There really are students who do go on to become architects and engineers or historians or whatever the career path that matches the class complaint.
Taking the class exposes the student to the possibilities that may actually interest them.
When, inevitably, the child claims to have zero interest in blah, blah, blah, the response should be that they can’t really make that decision until they have completed the class.
At this point, a small foot is usually stamped and the child sulkily returns to work, which is all you really wanted in the first place.
LEARN HOW TO LEARN APPROACH
My personal approach to this question is the “learn how to learn”.
In other words, don’t think, Johnny, that this is all about algebra. It isn’t. This is teaching you how to learn. How to absorb, understand and apply knowledge that may seem confusing and frustrating. This process teaches you how to approach challenges in life.
I promise you, Johnny, that future challenges will make Algebra seem like a piece of cake. Beating Algebra will help prepare you for the rest. Now, get back in there and learn something, Mister!
And isn’t that actually true? Doesn’t every challenge we face get just a little easier because we are slowly building our tools and coping mechanisms on how to handle them? If it isn’t algebra, then it’s the new boss or a new project dumped on our desk.
We may not appreciate everything we have to learn in school or think we will ever use, but we will. One way or the other.