The Feb. 3 opinion piece, “Who Needs Remediation,” contains this sentence:

“We now recognize that most people do not need to be fluent in advanced algebra in order to function well in our society.”

While this is absolutely true, “advanced algebra” is presumably the actual mathematical field also known as “abstract algebra” – the study of groups, rings, fields, Galois theory, etc. In fact the only text I can find called “Advanced Algebra” is Knapp’s graduate-level book that picks up after everything I just listed and delves into noncommutative rings and algebraic geometry.

Equation solving tends to be grouped into “elementary algebra” and “intermediate algebra” (sometimes these categories are called “high-school algebra” and “college algebra,” although both are taught in high schools and are high-school-level courses).

I think what this highlights is the sheer distance between the perspective of Logue, who teaches remedial math, and that of mathematicians or fields that intensively use math. It’s wonderful that college students are taking statistics, but a student who can’t do elementary algebra can’t take a single course in chemistry, physics, or astronomy. How well educated can our graduates be if they have zero understanding of physical science?

If you think students should only pick up a narrow skillset related to their own field, there are plenty of models for that kind of higher education around the world. The American liberal arts system isn’t one of them.

“Remedial” math is remedial because most high schools require three years of math, which always includes algebra. So if they took the class and didn’t understand it, that calls for remediation. If Logue’s fellow math faculty had taken statistics, and still didn’t understand it, then yes that would call for remediation as well (or better, finding new faculty).

–David Syphers