How Sputnik Forced American Kids to Learn ‘New Math’

The launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union in 1957 sent the Americans into panic. Lawmakers and educators became worried that the United States were falling behind the Soviets, and if something wasn’t done to boost science education and mathematical skill of students and future scientists, the nation could not win back the technological ground it appeared to have lost to the Soviets.

The very next year, President Eisenhower signed the National Defense Education Act, and the Congress poured money into the American education system at all levels. Every high school subject from biology to chemistry was reformed, but it was mathematics which was hit the hardest.

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An American elementary school classroom in the 1960s. Photo: Richey Elementary School


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