Is algebra necessary?

Queens College political science professor Andrew Hacker poses this question yesterday in an opinion piece on The New York Times:

“Yes, young people should learn to read and write and do long division, whether they want to or not. But there is no reason to force them to grasp vectorial angles and discontinuous functions. Think of math as a huge boulder we make everyone pull, without assessing what all this pain achieves. So why require it, without alternatives or exceptions? Thus far I haven’t found a compelling answer.”

He feels this way because:

“… a definitive analysis by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce forecasts that in the decade ahead a mere 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra or above.”

To this line of reasoning, I ask: Couldn’t the same query be posed of other subjects too? Why should everyone be forced to learn some of the arts, history or a foreign language?

I feel children are made to learn a broad spectrum of things because no one knows what is going to be truly useful to a given child after they’ve grown up. And if you’re one of the 5% (to quote the statistic above) who needs to use any more abstract mathematics than arithmetic in your life, you’re sure glad you were exposed to it in school. I know I am.

I’m sure this is also the case for the 5% (making this number up) who need to be reasonably versed in poetry or or chemistry or history or dodgeball or whatever when they grow up.