Christopher J. Phillips
The New Math
A Political History
University of Chicago Press 2015
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in MathematicsNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books Network March 26, 2015 Carla Nappi
Christopher J. Phillips‘ new book is a political history of the “New Math,” a collection of curriculum reform projects in the 1950s & 1960s that were partially sponsored by the NSF and involved hundreds of mathematicians, teachers, professors, administrators, parents, and students. The New Math: A Political History (University of Chicago Press, 2015) explores the formation of an idea of the “American subject” in an environment where math was considered to be a component of intelligent citizenship. As classrooms became sites shaped by Cold War politics, efforts to reform mathematics curricula were bound up in ideas of subjectivity and discipline. Phillips pays special attention to the work of the School Mathematics Study Group (SMSG) in this context, looking closely at the textbooks that the SMSG produced for children studying at a range of levels. Importantly, The New Math explores not just the production of these textbooks but also what happened when they were actually brought into American classrooms and engaged by teachers, students, and parents. As a result, in addition to being a fascinating political history it’s also a model of how we can treat the archaeology of the classroom as a way to approach the history of science.