Clue to Mr. Cohen: someone who flunked Algebra I six times is unlikely to be any great shakes in the humanities either. I hate to tell people who have been riding their "excellence" in humanities all these years to excuse their piss-poor performance in math & science: there is correlation between verbal intelligence and quantitative intelligence. A big correlation. The difference between math and literature is that it's really easy to fake profundity in lit and really tough to fake math knowledge. Now many people have a preference for particular subjects -- I prefer taking a math class to taking a chemistry class -- and that can have an impact on performance. And teaching quality in math is really important for the majority of people who are not self-taught. After failing Algebra I once, this girl should've had something changed - I think it unlikely for a teen to get something a second time if it's presented the exact same way as before.
Going back to my original rant: it is unwise to give anybody permission to live in a mental ghetto. Mental flexibility is the basis of a liberal arts education - and, if you knew anything of Western history, Mr. Cohen, you'd know that math was a big part of the original liberal arts curriculum. The Trivium is Rhetoric, Grammar, and Logic; the Quadrivium was arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. Oh, lookee there. The "higher thinking" seems to consists heavy of math and science. Whaddya know.
People think it's kinder to make students feel better with "Oh, but knowing how to write is so much more important, and you're [minimally] competent in that." -- no, what you're doing is lying to kids. People should know when they suck at something and know that sucking in that something can limit what they'll be able to do and may have a bad impact on their lives. Here's a few things I'm guessing the Algebra-failure will not be able to do: balance a checkbook, compute her own taxes, figure out the best car loan or credit card offer, make a budget, do financial planning for her future. No, none of these explicitly require algebra, but I think it's a good bet she has trouble with all of these. This is not okay for her -- it is so much easier to lose money and get swindled if you don't know math.
It is possible this girl can't learn algebra because she's somewhat mentally retarded or has some learning disability -- but shouldn't someone have checked that before letting her take a class (and fail it) 6 times? It's possible she failed because she never did the homework and never studied, because she figured she sucked at math anyway. It could also be indicative of the suckiness of her school that she's been allowed to take a class (and fail it) 6 times -- did nobody look into what was going on? At least the second time she failed?
And here's an adult giving her permission to give up on it because the subject isn't really that worthwhile. Way to go, man. Keep the kids down.
Oh, and this "math class is hard" argument might be a little stronger coming from someone who actually did well in math in high school.
UPDATE: I'm still pissed off. Ugh. I just want to punch this man.