Friday, May 23, 2014

Good grief! -- Sally Brown on New Math [Updated]

I have been working on a long piece on the parallels between the New Math of the Sixties and the Common Core math of today. As part of my research, I came across an amusing quote from a Peanuts strip of the time.

From Wikipedia:
In 1965, cartoonist Charles Schulz authored a series of Peanuts strips which detailed kindergartener Sally's frustrations with New Math. In the first strip, she is depicted puzzling over "sets, one to one matching, equivalent sets, non-equivalent sets, sets of one, sets of two, renaming two, subsets, joining sets, number sentences, placeholders." Eventually she bursts into tears and exclaims, "All I want to know is, how much is two and two?"
What surprised me was how well Schulz captured the terminology. The part about one to one matching was particularly apt.

[Found it]


  1. I remember it well. The problem then was a very well-designed attempt to teach the impossible: how numbers and operations and the underlying structure of math/arithmetic actually work. In other words, the trap of teaching "understanding" ... because people in general can't get this stuff.

    I contrast the styles of teaching from other countries. One of my kids, for example, spent a semester of high school in an exam school in China - meaning an actual Chinese high school, not a trip abroad school. They taught rote: here are the equations, these are the solutions, learn and test on them. So the class for all their students proceeded at roughly the highest level of our calculus track. The expectation is that many, many people can learn how to do x, y and z and that some subset are capable of much more. (And they worked to identify those kids and would give them extra classes and would in some cases push the family to have the kid sent to a special place, often far away, for that field.)

    We try to teach understanding. It's nice we think so many people can understand but that's at odds with reality.

  2. Love it!!!! I searched a lot for this strip - thanks for posting it!
    What a cute and powerful way to show how New Math just couldn't work.