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Topic: [math-learn] What do you want from math-learn?
Replies: 9   Last Post: Sep 12, 2004 7:30 PM

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Ralph A. Raimi

Posts: 724
Registered: 12/3/04
[math-learn] math anxiety
Posted: Sep 12, 2004 4:35 PM
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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" <>
Subject: "Math Anxiety"

I was going through the index called *The Readers Guide to
Periodical Literature*, which reviews a list of popular magazines --
non-professional, non-scholarly -- by subject and key word, for the years
1957-1981, 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 1957-1963 they all but one referred to family conflicts, religion
and various psychaiatric matters, the one exception being an article on
student test-taking anxiety. Since I didn't read the article I don't know
if math was a particular concern.
In 1963-1965 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 1966-67 I seem to have forgotten to look
for anxiety; sorry. In 1967-1968 there are 2 articles on student
anxiety, and in 1968-1969 *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 1973-1974 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 1977-1978 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.
1978-79 shows 5 articles on math anxiety, and a whole book on it
by S. Tobias. In 1979-1980 there is only one, but it is in Harper's
Bazaar, a women's magazine, and in 1980-1981 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 1967-1967: 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 light-hearted 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 14627-0138 (Webpage contains links to papers)

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