Robert Denn sent the following letter:

My dear Dr. Magliozzi,

Like you, I have extensive teaching experience (though not recently, I'm happy to report), and I agree with your analysis of the sorry state of what passes for education. But, as I'm sure you discovered in your own academic, it is much simpler to declare what's wrong with something than it is to propose a practical plan for achieving the wonderfulness of your vision. And that's what's wrong with your rant.

I know that my 13-year-old daughter doesn't care a hoot about algebra, doesn't have a clue about what algebra might be useful for, and isn't worried that an ignorance of algebra will make calculus a tad more difficult. A perusal of her textbook doesn't help, because, to be frank, it doesn't often come up that Eddie is twice as old as Ellen who is 3 years older than Esmerelda was 2 years ago when she broke off her affair with Harry, who is 47. So I say, "Well, what if you had a dollar and you wanted to know how many packs of gum you could buy?" To which she says, "Three, but you'd have to give me another nickel," but that's not algebra. "Duh, it's 35 cents a pack, Dad!"

So my question is how do you make algebra reality real to a teenager, and what are the problems you think teenagers could work backward from? I know this probably needs to involve hormones, but if you know the answer, I would like to team up with you to write a real algebra book.

For the record, I didn't teach math, though I did envy math teachers. But no, my Ph.D. is in American Literature and History, so I got to teach freshman composition a lot, an experience that provided a classic instance of your new theory. I cannot count the times some 18 year-old told me that spelling, syntax, and style were irrelevant because when he grew up and became an executive, his secretary would fix such things for him.

I bought a hamburger from one such former student just the other day.

Robert J. Denn, (recovering) Ph.D.

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