Thursday, January 20, 2011

Some Brief Notes On "Algebra"

A fellow F-Booker was bemoaning the amount of homework with which she was inundated by her teacher. I remarked, had she heard of Alfie Kohn who has written very fact-filled and fascinating rebuttal to "The Homework Myth." And this led me to further, probably useless, speculation and information:
Algebra is basically a puzzle-solving activity: you have a formula (one of the parts of the puzzle is determining which formula you need) and some values, and you have to figure out which values to plug in what slots in what formula, which is always the form "x = (Something). All the homework in the WORLD will not improve the facility of someone who does not have such a puzzle-solving aptitude to do the desired task.

It occurred to me one day that the only really practical application of algebra in 'everyday' life is in another mathematical activity: calculus. Algebra is the "grammar" of calculus. And calculus is the LANGUAGE of power. That's one reason why it's often taught as if the student were a supplicant before the "mysteries."

Another interestinjg factoid: The first time anyone in the English-speaking world would have encountered the word, it would have had the form "Algebrist," and it would have identified the party being referred to as a "bone-setter."

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