New Math Trauma

Numbers and Such - cover

Numbers & Such
A Lively Guide to the NEW MATH for Parents & Other Perplexed Adults

Any other Baby Boomers out there remember the trauma of  “New Math“? (If the wiki article is too much, try this article from Straight Dope.)

My childhood was filled with about 3 or 4 years of insane math instruction that made my parents go ballistic trying to help me. My chief memory was of a 5,000 page workbook (possibly an exaggeration) of non-stop incomprehensible exercises that had the added bonus of making my parents fight and me cry. The worst part is that the teacher used that same satanic workbook for both 3rd grade and 4th grade. I was Sisyphus and that damn workbook was the boulder.

This book is just odd (take a look at the illustrations). People like my parents were the target audience, and I am sure that the librarians in the 1960s would absolutely pick this book for the collection.

I am now going to retire and watch episodes of Scooby Doo in order to clear my head.


Numbers and Such - Preface

Numbers and Such - Names and Frames

Numbers and Such - Sets ad Arithmetic



    1. I thought of that song as well. (My parents were big Tom Lehrer fans.)

      Glad they’d gone back to the old math by the time I got to school.

  1. I minored in math in college, and I’ve got to say that that’s one of the weirdest math books I’ve ever seen. It should’ve been weeded before it ever got on the shelf. Gack!

  2. Elements of a set? Really? It’s like that Benny Hill skit that included a pair of maracas, a pair of bongos, and a pair of “twits”!

  3. Ugh, I grew up in the ’60’s so I was subject to “New math”. I’ve never liked math, was not good at it and it always induced anxiety. Maybe I would have been more comfortable with “old math”.

  4. OMG! Weed books – esp math ones! Actually we have a copy of this book in our academic library collection. Will have to go check it out. BTW it has not circulated for years if ever.

  5. Tears are welling up, spilling over — all that trauma instantly recovered just from the phrase “new math”! Reading the post and seeing the illustrations has done me in for today, tomorrow, possibly for longer.

    1. “New Math” was an attempt to teach mathematics starting with logic, instead of just, you know, integers, counting stuff, etc. It was supposed to help us Catch Up With The Soviets, who had launched Sputnik before we had a beeping rock in space.

      So, you started with set theory and Venn diagrams, and then moved on to “AND” statements (the overlapping set), and so on. It also included concepts such as “base” (Base two, base eight, etc.), and introduced the concept of negative numbers bang off the bat in third or fourth grade.

      I found the theory stuff rather interesting, actually. My problem was that at the same time we were learning new math, my very traditional teacher was also having us do all the old math — memorizing the multiplication table, taking one-second time-tests on multiplication, dictating word problems, and on and on. And the stress of that, particularly the time-tests, turned me off math for life.

    2. It was the idea that children should learn some of the basic mathematical ideas behind arithmetic, rather than just being taught arithmetic facts by rote. This central concept is a good one and is still used in school-level arithmetic, I think.

      For example, children learning about decimals would begin by learning what the decimal system means, what base ten is, and might spend a few days considering numbers written in other bases, such as binary.

      There was an enormous uproar at the time, mainly because children were reading textbooks and doing homework that their parents couldn’t understand at all (having learned arithmetic by rote and never having encountered abstract mathematical concepts).

  6. Wow, those pictures are going to cause way more lasting damage than the text–at least most children would find the text too nonsensical to be scarring, but man, those are frightening.

  7. New Math was awful! In my school district (Springfield Township, Montgomery County, PA.) They started in third grade with one
    set of textbooks then switched to a different publisher in fourth! Completely different! My fourth grade teacher (probably dead now) was near retirement and wanted no part of it. She told us to get in line at the desks of the two fourth graders who understood it.
    They were long lines! Can you imagine! Also in May and June she would get hot and take her bun hairpiece off and leave it on her desk.

  8. It wasn’t until decades later that I realized I had been taught New Math in first grade. I distinctly remember covering the unions ans intersections of sets. In later years, though, it was mostly just memorizing multiplication tables.

    Math didn’t get interesting again until I had Algebra in 9th grade. I wish I’d had more New Math.

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