# So many people are unable to do simple algebra

In summary, many people are not able to do simple algebra any more, and it is something that students should learn.
Homework Helper
Gold Member
I find it interesting that so many know how to use all kinds of apps on their cell phones, but so few are able to do simple algebra any more. If you ask around, engineers not included, I think you would find very few people e.g. to be able to find the axis of symmetry of the parabola ## y=x^2+5x+6 ##. It probably isn't something that a musician or a waitress needs to know how to do, but there is a beauty in mathematics that so many these days seem to be missing. The algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and even calculus is something the students would do well to learn, and not let it fall by the wayside.

mcastillo356 and Lnewqban
I had a very hard time memorizing things in grade school. Spelling, poems, the multiplication tables. When asked, "what is 6 times 6?" I would do repeated additions in my head (twelve plus six is eighteen, plus six is ... twenty-four, plus six is (sweating now)....) while my classmates would instantly shout out "thirty-six!"

Only when I had the table memorized did I begin to not hate arithmetic, and for me that was just in time to start algebra in seventh grade. I was lucky to have a good algebra teacher, and I really began to like math from then on.

You can't "do" algebra if you're still sweating over your "times" table; can't do trig if algebra is hard, and so on. I think a lot of kids get behind and never get back on track. The words "I hate math" are just accepted.

gmax137 said:
I had a very hard time memorizing things in grade school. Spelling, poems, the multiplication tables.
I was having trouble memorizing the full multiplication table (I forget what grade, maybe 1st?), and one night at home when I finished singing along with the introductory theme song to the TV show "The Beverly Hillbillies", my dad said, "So, you can't memorize the multiplication table, but you can memorize the song for the Beverly Hillbillies?".

Guess how much I improved in school the next week.

Math100, hutchphd, Charles Link and 1 other person
I find it interesting that so many know how to use all kinds of apps on their cell phones, but so few are able to do simple algebra any more. If you ask around, engineers not included, I think you would find very few people e.g. to be able to find the axis of symmetry of the parabola ## y=x^2+5x+6 ##. It probably isn't something that a musician or a waitress needs to know how to do, but there is a beauty in mathematics that so many these days seem to be missing. The algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and even calculus is something the students would do well to learn, and not let it fall by the wayside.

Attention! What follows is my personal opinion. Do not read if you cannot stand other people's opinions that are not yours!
Mathematics at school is a sequence of teaching stupid algorithms in my opinion. There is no place for beauty and I'm not sure whether there ever was after the Greeks. The list of famous mathematicians is a list of savants. With the rise of calculators everywhere, the notation of kg prices for each food (not sure about the US, but in the EU everything has to be prized as per kg, so people won't need to do the math anymore), and the already devastated reputation of math, mathematics abolishes itself. And that is a good thing. Every other science is taught as such, a science, except mathematics which still thinks addition is mathematics. Complete failure is the only way to get rid of the stubborn teachers everywhere who put up with the stupidity of algorithms.

pinball1970
Hear, hear. Them thar darn kids. Can't even use the slide rule no more.

fresh_42 said:
Attention! What follows is my personal opinion. Do not read if you cannot stand other people's opinions that are not yours!
Mathematics at school is a sequence of teaching stupid algorithms in my opinion. There is no place for beauty and I'm not sure whether there ever was after the Greeks. The list of famous mathematicians is a list of savants. With the rise of calculators everywhere, the notation of kg prices for each food (not sure about the US, but in the EU everything has to be prized as per kg, so people won't need to do the math anymore), and the already devastated reputation of math, mathematics abolishes itself. And that is a good thing. Every other science is taught as such, a science, except mathematics which still thinks addition is mathematics. Complete failure is the only way to get rid of the stubborn teachers everywhere who put up with the stupidity of algorithms.
I Iike your passion. I learned maths at school not mathematics, before that we called it sums. I learned that as well. Also not mathematics.
I get this now to an extent.

pinball1970 said:
I Iike your passion. I learned maths at school not mathematics, before that we called it sums. I learned that as well. Also not mathematics.
I get this now to an extent.
I had a mentor who refused to multiply matrices. I think he's got a point. In any case, he has a Wikipedia entry ;-)

The fun part of mathematical teaching is that the only thing that is of use in real life, is geometry! The oldest branch and one that is commonly presented as if it hasn't anything, absolutely nothing to do with real life. Au contraire, everything else is obsolete. WA or alike is or can be on every smartphone! But geometry paves the path to physics and engineering. I once asked my teacher at school what a partial derivative is, and he didn't - for whatever reason - answer it, i.e. said something about university. My opinion is due to the experiences I made in life and the observations I made; not only at school but at university, too.

I once saw a package addressed to a professor of didactics in the office of "my" professor. I said I was surprised that he would send him a package. His answer was: "Oh no, that was sent to the department and left here. I would at most send him something that ticks."

I think it is time to reconsider the didactics of mathematics.

pinball1970
I find it interesting that so many know how to use all kinds of apps on their cell phones, but so few are able to do simple algebra any more. If you ask around, engineers not included, I think you would find very few people e.g. to be able to find the axis of symmetry of the parabola ## y=x^2+5x+6 ##. It probably isn't something that a musician or a waitress needs to know how to do, but there is a beauty in mathematics that so many these days seem to be missing. The algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and even calculus is something the students would do well to learn, and not let it fall by the wayside.

Recently I watched my brother swap the winter tires off my car for the summer tires. I have been watching him put a secondary roof on the shipping containers he has behind his house, in prep for putting solar panels on them. Recently he put new pistons in the engine of a more-than-60 year old tractor. He put in an all-new bathroom in his house. He put up a new fence around the swimming pool. He can put in a new wall socket and hook it to the breaker panel and meet the building codes.

If I absolutely had to, with quite a few false tries and lost skin, I could do those things. I would have to be looking up a *LOT* of stuff on the internet. And the final product would be pretty poor.

Information is, at least for a few levels, fractal. Nobody can learn everything that humans know.

.... The algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and even calculus is something the students would do well to learn, and not let it fall by the wayside.
That seems to be one of many problems of the education systems that I have experienced.
Teaching the practical applications of those things, would increase the interest of the students, IMHO.
Even many problems shown in text books and homework's posted in that section of this site are atrocious, regarding real life and practicity.

So many people are unable to...
...summarize a novel
...outline an argument
...dance the polka
... calculate a tip in their head
...balance a checkbook
...change a tire
...identify the US vice president from a picture (amusing fact - more people can identify Mr. Clean)

Need I go on?

My dad called it the "joy of mathematics" when i was younger, and I truly believe in it. Problem solving is fun and beautiful, but the stresses of classes a lot of the time doesn't allow one to see that (something about not being able to see the beauty when amongst the trees). Often I find myself learning *more* when i revisit topics after the class has ended without the pressure of a problem set deadline, an upcoming test, etc. A lot of "Ohhh, I see why that actually works now" vs "Okay, just accept it for now".

I use to work with students who were that type who fell behind, whether due to attention issues, health issues, etc. and what I found out is that the people who 'hate' math don't really hate math per se, they hate feeling dumb.

A lot of the time the older students gave up because they think others just "got it", when in reality it was just because their base was better. Once they got over their ego issues by addressing their weakness in certain areas (usually had to do with more basic algebra, and often times, fraction manipulations), they saw the fun in math because now THEY were getting it too. Now, this doesn't happen overnight, and usually take a month or two, which is another problem: Instant gratification seems to be at an all time high, and math is, well... rarely instantly gratifying.

DaveE, tuxscholar, Charles Link and 3 others

## Why do so many people struggle with simple algebra?

Many people struggle with simple algebra due to a variety of factors including lack of foundational math skills, anxiety around math, poor teaching methods, and a lack of real-world application that makes the concepts seem abstract and irrelevant.

## How can educational systems improve algebra understanding among students?

Educational systems can improve algebra understanding by incorporating more practical examples, using technology and interactive tools, providing additional support for students who struggle, and training teachers in effective instructional strategies.

## Is there a correlation between early math skills and the ability to do algebra later?

Yes, there is a strong correlation between early math skills and the ability to do algebra later. A solid understanding of basic arithmetic and number sense forms the foundation upon which algebraic concepts are built.

## What role does math anxiety play in the inability to perform algebra?

Math anxiety can significantly impact one's ability to perform algebra. It can cause students to freeze up during problem-solving, avoid math-related activities, and develop a negative attitude towards learning math, all of which hinder their ability to grasp algebraic concepts.

## Can everyone learn algebra, or are some people just not "math people"?

Everyone has the potential to learn algebra with the right support and resources. The idea of "math people" versus "non-math people" is a myth. With perseverance, effective teaching, and a growth mindset, most individuals can improve their algebra skills.

Replies
41
Views
4K
Replies
2
Views
237
Replies
5
Views
2K
Replies
28
Views
10K
Replies
14
Views
3K
Replies
6
Views
849
Replies
14
Views
2K
Replies
5
Views
1K
Replies
4
Views
1K
Replies
6
Views
2K