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Max Beberman

The document above is a Time magazine article from January 22, 1965, describing Max Beberman’s perspective on issues the “old” and New Math faced. This article was brought to us by a Uni alum, Douglas R. Bader, during our 2019 History Harvest. He recalls the article in Time magazine being a memorable event. The boy in the photo raising his hand is Sherwin Gooch, and the girl next to him is Blair Lee—both subbies in the year the pictures were taken.

Max Beberman was born in New York on August 20, 1925 and was one of the founders of New Math. He taught math at Uni High and was part of the U of I math faculty from 1950 to 1971. He was the head of the University of Illinois Committee on School Mathematics, which focused on restructuring high school math curricula and helping to develop New Math.

In this article, Max Beberman describes the challenges that New Math faces. They boil down a few points:

  1. The main challenge to New Math faced was the lack of experienced teachers who had both the exposure to advanced math and teaching skills to describe concepts in sufficient detail.

  2. The effects of the old system continually held back New Math. Many students hadn’t developed computational or logical skills due to the “old system” drilling in memorization and failing to teach critical thinking.

Max Beberman thought new math was “here to stay.” Unfortunately, after he died, the program faded away, likely due to the points he outlined above. However, there are still New Math materials and a legacy for modern math education. Small aspects of the New Math’s teaching style linger on in individual teacher’s teaching styles or in select math textbooks. Although New Math was not a successful attempt at making a national math curriculum, the idea of a national math curriculum lingers on in the influence of standardized math tests. In addition, New Math introduced the concept of discussing more difficult math problems in high school, which is a trend that continues today with the addition of Calculus as a high school course. Finally, the failure of New Math serves as a reminder that it’s essential for curriculum reform to start with training high school teachers.

Max Beberman