Skip to main content

New Math

June 2024
1min read


I enjoyed reading your article on the new math, but I believe that it neglected the positive side of the whole episode. I am apparently a contemporary of the author, having graduated from high school in 1969.1 attended a suburban Indianapolis school system that participated in the early new-math projects. At first we even used SMSG workbooks. I do not know how our teachers were prepared, but they clearly comprehended the concepts in the new math.

I received average math grades throughout secondary school, and my college experience with mathematics confirmed that I had no interest in or aptitude for the subject. I did, however, start taking computer programming courses. There I found myself working in base two, eight, and sixteen. Using these alternative numbering systems was easy and natural. My fellow students who had no effective new-math experience were at sea, and many who were far brighter than I didn’t perform as well as I did.

Computer design and programming is one area where the United States is still dominant. Most of the best people in this field are of the new-math generation. 1 wonder how many of them benefited from this curriculum experiment. I wonder how many more would have excelled if all the teachers had been as well prepared as mine were. Perhaps American Heritage would have run an article entitled “New Math, the Experiment That Succeeded.”

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.

Donate