Dunking and Second Order Polynomials

Now we require that all kids learn algebra. But no one has ever convincingly justified the rightness of this requirement being placed on our children in school. Why not instead require that everyone be able to dunk a basketball? Would this be any more unreasonable? In fact, the probability that children can learn to dunk a basketball may even be greater than the probability that children can learn to correctly work and solve quadratic equations.

Now we don’t require that our school children be able to dunk the basketball. Why not? For it has certainly brought great riches to those who can do it well?  We don’t require it because we readily accept that the ability to do so depends on factors over which the child has no control, such as the physical size of his parents that have mostly determined his or her own height and springiness.

Yet there are those who say they can teach you to dunk the basketball, that by following strict exercise and strength regimes you can train your body to rise to the necessary height. See, for example, How to Dunk a Basketball. Do you believe that? I don’t.

So we have no problem in allowing children to be different in regard to dunking ability. Nor do we have a problem in saying that the learning environment is powerless to change this situation. There will be those with and those without this ability, and no one will bemoan the fact.

But when it comes to algebra, heaven forbid that there be those who are born with advantages in this regard, and heaven forbid us from saying that the algebra ability is beyond the grasp of some. For to say this would be to put them down, somehow make then inferior to those with the ability.

Nationwide school dropouts were asked why they dropped out of school. The most frequent response given was mathematics, implying their failure to learn that discipline. At least no one dropped out because of failure to dunk the basketball. In some respects, in this respect, we do allow our children to be different and be normal, and healthy, and happy at the same time.