Algebra – the birthplace and graveyard for many

Eleanor Chute has written an interesting article about the importance of algebra in school mathematics. It is not a scientific article, but I think it is worth reading even though! (It was published on September 1st in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.) The article is part of a series related to school mathematics, and the two previous articles in the series raise interesting questions about early math and fractions.

Although algebra to many represents a hurdle, or even the graveyard in their mathematical careers, the article claims that:

Algebraic thinking is done even by people who don’t realize they’re using algebra.

After a series of examples, Chute goes on to quote Michele Burgess, who claims that students should not be confronted with algebra for the first time in the Algebra 1 course. This leads me to think about the debate (and research) concerning early algebra, although this is not referred to in this article in particular. If you are interested, I recommend the chapter on early algebra by David Carraher and Analucia Schliemann in NCTM‘s Second Handbook of Research on Mathematics Teaching and Learning (Lester, 2007), or even Carolyn Kieran’s chapter on algebra in the same handbook.


Lester, F. K. (Ed.) (2007). Second handbook of research on mathematics teaching and learning. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Pub. 

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