What Do We Need Algebra For?

The mobile phone industry stuck a nerve among teachers this month. An industry trade group argued that cell phones should be allowed in the classroom, saying they can be used as a teaching tool to help children with their math skills — in particular, algebra.

Well, we're going to avoid that debate this week. But it did make us reflect: what exactly is algebra, and why do so many people find it hard to learn?

NPR's Scott Simon turns to Weekend Edition Math Guy Keith Devlin of Stanford University for help.

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