I remember reading an old calculus book (years 1920-1930) and in the preface it was portrayed as revolutionary because it was for high school students. Nowadays, that is not revolutionary, because most countries have calculus in high school. So, this made me wonder: how did we go from having no calculus in high school to having calculus almost world-wide in high school? How exactly does such a significant shift in curriculum happen, with a new subject area added to high school?

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    $\begingroup$ I was wondering about this for a long time. I write a comment and not an answer since I do not know the answer. Here are some possible reasons (completely unfounded): it can be a result in the race between exam boards; maybe universities asked for it (calculus is part of the math entrance tests these days). It is interesting though that as far as I know, calculus (and statistics) is still not a topic on the International Mathematics Olympiads for high school students. $\endgroup$ Feb 25, 2023 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ I think when asking this question, it will help to restrict one's attention to a specific country, as the history is different in each country. In which country was that old calculus book that you mentioned published? $\endgroup$ Mar 19, 2023 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ I was told by my A-Level (age 16-18 for non-Brits) Further Maths teacher that the stuff we were doing used to be part of the high school curriculum. As an undergrad I was told the stuff we were doing used to be A-level. I'm not sure the premise of this question is correct. $\endgroup$ Mar 22, 2023 at 10:38

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Briefly, in the United States, Calculus was introduced to the high-school mathematics curriculum in the late 1950s by a movement called the New Math Movement. The New Math Movement itself started in the early 1950s and lasted until the early 1970s. The New Math was an approach to teaching mathematics to students by using a form of discovery learning (students were encouraged to use their own deductive powers to discover how to solve mathematics problems). According to R. Hayden (A History of the New Math Movement in the United States, PhD dissertation, Iowa State University, 1981):

the New Math Movement brought about change in the school mathematics curriculum on a scale and at a rate unknown before - or since.

In A brief history of American K-12 Mathematics Education (see here), D. Klein writes:

The U.S.S.R launched Sputnik, the first space satellite, in the fall of 1957. The American press treated Sputnik as a major humiliation, and called attention to the low quality of math and science instruction in the public schools. Congress responded by passing the 1958 National Defense Education Act to increase the number of science, math, and foreign language majors, and to contribute to school construction.

So, in response to your question: how did we go from having no calculus in high school to having calculus almost world-wide in high school? one can say that at least in the United States, the launch of Sputnik by the U.S.S.R. in the fall of 1957 played an important role in the introduction of Calculus (and other "New Mathematics") to the high-school mathematics curriculum.


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