Readings in the History of Mathematics Education

Lynn Godshall, reviewer

Readings in the History of Mathematics Education, by James K. Bidwell and Robert G. Clason,1970. 706 pp., paper, ISBN 0-87353-536-7. NCTM, 1906 Association Drive, Reston, VA $47.95 (member price $38.36), 

This book provides a thorough treatment of the evolution of mathematics education in the United States from 1828 to 1959. It is indeed interesting to see how the importance of mathematics changed throughout the years. Early on, arithmetic was taught for business and commerce. During the colonial period, however, it was taught for mental discipline, and it was not intended for small children. Around 1900, national and international committees began to make recommendations for the teaching of mathematics; at this time, geometry and algebra were added to the arithmetic program. They also tried to stabilize the mathematics curriculum needed for college admission. From 1920-1937, foundations were laid for the junior and senior high school mathematics programs; this included general mathematics, a course that was designed for all students, not a separation between college-bound and non-college-bound students. The book concludes with the post-war period, an era that saw many changes in mathematics education. 

The book shows how various strains were introduced into the mathematics curriculum, removed, and reintroduced. Sample pages and problems have been included from a number of early textbooks, and it is interesting to compare these with today’s textbooks. Reasons have been provided for the inclusion of certain topics and the exclusion of others. The learning of mathematics is looked at from several philosophical and psychological standpoints as well. Today’s teachers can appreciate all the work and time spent in developing both the NCTM Standards and their individual state guidelines. Mathematics education is constantly changing and evolving. 

This book provides an insightful look at mathematics education, and it should be a welcome addition to a teacher’s professional collection.

Lynn Godshall, Susquehanna Township High School, Harrisburg, PA