A political scientist wants to teach statistics without algebra or logs? Instead of "math," the political scientist wants to teach the Consumer Price Index and other political tools as science. Wow.
That's dumb, but the arguments being made in the NYT article go beyond dumb and are dangerous: Not all employers need people with algebra. Ok. So we shouldn't teach algebra. Oh, ok.
A reasonable follow up question: Do employers need people who have read canonical American literature, or have any appreciation for history, art, or poetry?
Well, I am an employer, I can answer that question. I don't NEED my employees to know any of that stuff. None of that goes onto the job description. During a job interview, I will never hear "this Research Biologist job looks great, I'm super qualified for that, but I've never read Hemmingway." It's not important. I would be very concerned if someone had no interests or studies outside of their job, but each individual subject is not important.
TFA says "Instead of investing so much of our academic energy in a subject that blocks further attainment for much of our population, I propose that we start thinking about alternatives." That line of thinking leads to full time work-study. Work ethic, punctuality, experience being managed in a job... there are some skills directly applicable to EVERY workplace, and it doesn't require ANY difficult academic subjects. Tailoring the educational system to job postings is stupid and a pathway to a very poorly educated population.
Math should be relevant to "real" people. That's not controversial. So let's judge math education based on real-world applicability for everyone, not just "employers."
People should be able to handle their personal finances, and understand what they're signing on to when they sign a loan or a job offer. Algebra *should* be enabling that, but we teach it poorly and people cannot apply it to their lives.
These are the kinds of things everyone should be able to do with math:
Assume you need to put a $1000 on a credit card for a year. Evaluate three different (real) credit card offers and determine which will require you to pay the least amount back.
Assume you get a job offer with a $40k annual salary. This offer comes with a 401k retirement plan that you will own. Your employer will pay into your 401k account the same amount you pay into it, up to 3% of your salary. How much money are you paid annually for this job if you submit 3% of your salary to the 401k?
You have two job offers for temporary work, and can only take one. The first is for 25 hours at $15 an hour and the second is at $18 an hour for between 15 and 25 hours. How many hours do you need to get at the $18/hour job to get paid the same total amount as the $15/hour job?
If people can't do these problems (and many can't), then I agree that it's pointless to try and teach polynomials and logs, and that's really a bad thing!
People in liberal arts and social science need to think about that this is math that is 400 years old. In the 1600s, people thought this was important enough to work on and use. This is math that was useful in the Renaissance, and we have built on it and increased it's utility since then (notably: basic statistics...). This is "advanced" and "modern" in the same way that novels are (a 400 year old art form). No one would suggest that reading novels is an impediment for graduation, and anyway, not important to the workplace, so we should be more modern and just read blog posts in school.