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The New MathA Political History$
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Christopher J. Phillips

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780226184968

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226185019.001.0001

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The Basic Subject

The Basic Subject

New Math and Its Discontents

(p.121) Chapter Six The Basic Subject
The New Math

Christopher J. Phillips

University of Chicago Press

The final chapter examines critics of the new math. Challenging the traditional presumption that the new math failed primarily because of falling test scores, this chapter argues that the criticism was not at heart about students’ inability to add--rather, students were failing to acquire the right sort of intellectual discipline. Parents, teachers, and others affiliated with the “back to basics” movement began to openly oppose the new math in the 1970s on the basis of an alternative conception of the mental habits math class should promote. Aligning with conservatives who claimed moral authority for the curriculum should be taken back from national politicians, federal programs, and professional mathematicians, “back to basics” proponents emphasized the need for the “traditional” mental discipline of rote learning, not the structural approach of the new math.

Keywords:   test scores, criticism, new math, conservatives, back to basics, moral authority, rote learning

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