So why are we so into algebra? Baker points out that many of today's math requirements are relics of the Cold War. In 1950, only 25 percent of students in the U.S. were taking algebra. The Soviet Union, by contrast, was churning out mathematicians, partially because compared to lab sciences, teaching math is cheap--pen and paper are the only required materials. And so, seeing the influx of young mathematicians in Russia, Congress passed 1958's National Defense Education Act, re-upping the American math curriculum requirements, and, in turn, creating a lot of unhappy students who, as they struggle through required math course after required math course, become discouraged and learn to hate school.