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After some research on the recent history of math education in the U.S., from the new math movement to the beginning of the 21st century, I understood that the historic flow of the math education paradigm was something like this:

  • during the cold war, the new math movement brought abstract and formal ideas to early years seeking to improve scientific education to compete with the eastern block.(60s-mid 70s)
  • Hard criticism on the new math movement brought back a new and more radical version of constructivism (mid 70s-80s)
  • Opposition from mathematicians and parents brought back a discussion on the effectiveness of constructivism, in face of a decreasing performance on basic math skills. No consensus exists on whether to trust on constructivism or traditional (pre-new math and pre-old constructivism) methods of math teaching.(90s-early 00's)

I'm from Latin America and making contact with local math education history experts to confirm a similar trend on my country. Thinking of the cold war as a pivot event for this flow of the math teaching paradigm on the U.S., I ask: was this movement (new math, constructivism, revival of traditional ideas) a trend on the western block of U.S. aligned countries during that period?

Here in Brazil we have lots of material on new math from the 60's and the 70's, and from the early 90's to today the federal government supports a more constructivist approach when setting the standards for national education.

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    $\begingroup$ My comments in this 26 January 2011 math-teach post archived at Math Forum may be of interest. $\endgroup$ – Dave L Renfro Jan 25 '16 at 15:16
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    $\begingroup$ As I understand it, math education fads in Latin America (in particular, in Chile) were heavily inluenced by fads in the US. At least in the time span discussed. You'd have to look elsewhere, i.e., in Europe or Asia, for a contrast. $\endgroup$ – vonbrand Jan 25 '16 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ One thing to add to your sequence is the effect of the GI bill for veterans of WWII. This opportunity shifted demographics of undergraduates towards a population that was somewhat older than the typical 18 year old college freshman, and towards a population with more life experience. I think these vets did quite well in college, and set the achievement bar rather high for their children, who were expected to flourish with the cold war "new math" curriculum. $\endgroup$ – user52817 Jan 25 '16 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ One other thing to remember: the new math was developed just after WWII. It was sitting in the shelf when the USSR sent up Sputnik. That unleashed federal money for a new math curriculum, and since US curricula swing from Rigorous Math to Back to Basics every couple of decades (and was in a Back to Basics movement since the end of WW I), the rigor of the SMSG fit the bill perfectly. Look up “Why Johnny Can’t Add” for reasons for the return journey to Back to Basics. $\endgroup$ – Sciolism Apparently Mar 6 at 19:39

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