‘Likening the study of algebra to reading about the Tulsa Race Massacre is unacceptable’

BRATTLEBORO — Dan DeWalt reveals that not only does he not like algebra but, in fact, many others also do not.

As part of a commendable commentary outlining the shortcomings of our standard history textbooks in accurately presenting all sides in several situations he opines that “No one would expect white Americans to enjoy reading [the corrected version],” which includes what America really did to the Cubans during the Spanish-American War; that Custer, before his last stand, wiped out a peaceful encampment of men, women, and children; and the Tulsa Race Massacre in Oklahoma in which the white population participated in murdering up to 300 Black folks while burning much of the city to the ground.

Mr. DeWalt justifies including this reading despite the lack of enjoyment: “[...] but not that many people expect to enjoy algebra.”

Having taught, before retiring, mathematics for over 46 years I can assure my readers that many students do enjoy mathematics. I need not add that some do not; Mr. DeWalt has verified that for us.

Likening the study of algebra to reading about the Tulsa Race Massacre is unacceptable. There is a great diversity in society as to the subject areas to which different individuals are drawn; some to woodworking, some to music, others to a study of history, and some to mathematics.

Also, there is great ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity in our society. Tolerance of each group by the others enhances our ideals of freedom, equality, and equal opportunity.

Algebra may be thought of as a tool, much as is a hammer. One wouldn't want to to carry a hammer around all the time, but it is helpful when you need it. Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity is understandable with a knowledge of high school algebra, and students find it interesting to see how the remarkable results unfold mathematically.

The Method of Exhaustion, first formulated by Eudoxus, allowed Archimedes to “almost” discover calculus almost 2,000 years earlier than Newton and Leibniz in the 16th century. Again - easily accessible at the high school level of mathematics.

I cannot omit mentioning Leonhard Euler, 18th-century Swiss mathematician, solving the well-known Seven Bridges of Königsberg Bridge problem and his remarkable work in combinatorics, which forms the basis of probability and statistics - most appropriate at election time when teaching how polls are conducted and the meaning of sampling error.

While it may be true that some history may not make us feel good, such does not also apply to mathematics. Algebra is the base of that which has been called “the queen of the sciences.” That is why it is included in the high school curriculum.

Few students, if any, go on to study in depth all of what is included. We present a wide sample and accept the individual choices made upon graduation. We should be glad that some select algebra as mathematics is relevant to so many aspects of the lives we lead.