Sing Lyric Sunday: “New Math”

When I started taking arithmetic classes in 1962, there was all kinds of excitement about a revolution in pedagogy called “New Math.” Ours was the first class at St. Ignatius School to have the honor (or be cursed with, depending on your point of view) of learning arithmetic in this newfangled way, and of course it baffled me and most of the class and I was falling behind. This was the cause for consternation in my family, because, after all, my grandfather was a professor of Mathematics at Loyola University less than two blocks away and, in fact, had taught many of the same teachers that were now telling my mother that I was falling behind. In fact, I was pretty number literate and could add and subtract with the best of them (all you need to know to pass 1st Grade), thanks to all I had learned from Professor Hicks, but there was the issue of learning it the “New Math” way, where getting the right answer was secondary to being able to explain how I got that answer (i.e. to tell the teachers what I was doing in between getting the problem and arriving at the answer). Sound familiar?

Anyway, around that time a Professor of Mathematics from MIT, Tom Lehrer, was making waves in the entertainment business by writing humorous songs and performing them in concert. At one point he was employed as a songwriter for the popular TV show That Was The Week That Was, the name of one of his albums. In one of his songs, he discusses this revolutionary new method of taking a problem like 2+2=4 and turning it into an incomprehensible discussion where you might end up with 5 as the answer, but at least you understood what you were doing. Normally I would include the lyrics copied from one of the many lyrics collections online, but as you’ll see, a young man named Jared Khan did that already.

In the computer biz, math is done in base 16, so 342 – 173 = 1CF (in base 16 you count 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F, 10…), usually pronounced “one charlie foxtrot.”

Anyway, that’s Song Lyric Sunday for March 17, 2019.

7 thoughts on “Sing Lyric Sunday: “New Math”

  1. OMG so funny. I never could help my kids with their math problems either, although simple addition and subtraction was doable. Once they got into algebra I was totally lost.


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