
[mathlearn] math anxiety
Posted:
Sep 12, 2004 4:35 PM


This phrase first came to my attention in 1996, in a math education discussion group, where the question was asked, did math anxiety begin with the "new math" of the 1960s? So I went to the library and looked up the subject in The Readers Guide, which refers mainly to articles in popular mgazines but also some other things. These were the days before Google, but what I found and sent to my friends at the time might still be of at least historical interest (The answer to the question, by the way, seems to be no, 'math anxiety' or 'math phobia' did not become a *popular* concern until well after the "new math" era):
Date: Mon, 10 Jun 1996 04:22:25 0500 (EST) From: "Ralph A. Raimi" <rarm@db1.cc.rochester.edu> Subject: "Math Anxiety"
I was going through the index called *The Readers Guide to Periodical Literature*, which reviews a list of popular magazines  nonprofessional, nonscholarly  by subject and key word, for the years 19571981, looking for popular reaction to The New Math. While I was there I looked also for references to 'math anxiety', which does not appear by that name until quite late in the period named. Under 'anxiety' there were entries for all those years, but in the period 19571963 they all but one referred to family conflicts, religion and various psychaiatric matters, the one exception being an article on student testtaking anxiety. Since I didn't read the article I don't know if math was a particular concern. In 19631965 there were 9 articles on anxiety, one of them concerned with students' fear of forgetting things on an exam and none of the others about schooling. In 196667 I seem to have forgotten to look for anxiety; sorry. In 19671968 there are 2 articles on student anxiety, and in 19681969 *Science* has an article on student anxiety, and in the next few years there is a steady one, two or three a year on that subject (part of the more general 'anxiety' rubric listing five to ten articles in all). In 19731974 there appears for the first time an article on "math phobia," in a magazine called Education Digest, which is something like Readers Digest, filled with condensed versions of articles that had earlier appeared in education journals like The Mathematics Teacher. The author, one M. Lazarus, kept writing on the subject over the next few years, untiil in 19771978 there were articles in such generally popular magazines as McCalls and Time in what was now called "Math Anxiety" and now a subhead under "Mathematics" and not just "Anxiety." By this time there had been a number of articles called "Whatever became of the new math" and other titles indicating that New Math was commonly thought to be a thing of the past. 197879 shows 5 articles on math anxiety, and a whole book on it by S. Tobias. In 19791980 there is only one, but it is in Harper's Bazaar, a women's magazine, and in 19801981 there are two articles on math anxiety, both explicitly about the phenomenon in women.
I didn't read any of these articles, but I think that even though magazine articles are a lagging indicator of such things it can hardly be said that math anxiety was a consequence of The New Math. There are, however, a couple of provocative titles from back in 19671967: In Time Magazine, March 17 1967, an article headed "The Price of Math Phobia", and in Parents Magazine, September 1967, "Who's afraid of the new math?" I believe the titles were intended to be lighthearted about 'new math,' however, and not indicative of what was only given a name ten years later.
R.A. Raimi University of Rochester
Ralph A. Raimi Tel. 585 275 4429 or (home) 585 244 9368 Dept. of Mathematics FAX 585 273 4655 University of Rochester Webpage Rochester, NY 146270138 (Webpage contains links to papers)
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