Morris Kline was a protagonist in the curriculum reform in mathematics education that occurred in the second half of the twentieth century, a period including the programs of the new math. In 1956

*Mathematics Teacher* magazine published Kline’s "Mathematical texts and teachers: a tirade". Calling out teachers blaming students for failures, he wrote "There is a student problem, but there are also three other factors which are responsible for the present state of mathematical learning, namely, the curricula, the texts, and the teachers." The tirade touched a nerve, and changes started to happen. But then Kline switched to being a critic of some of the changes. In 1958 he wrote "Ancients versus moderns: a new battle of the books". The article was accompanied with a rebuttal by Albert E. Meder Jr. of Rutgers University. (

*Mathematics Teacher* 51:428 –33). He says, "I find objectionable: first, vague generalizations, entirely undocumented, concerning views held by ‘modernists’, and second, the inferences drawn from what has not been said by the ‘modernists’." By 1966 Kline yielded to the pressure to propose something positive with his eight page high school plan (

*Mathematics Teacher* 59:322–330). The rebuttal for this article was by James H. Zant and asserted that Kline had "a general lack of knowledge of what was going on in schools with reference to textbooks, teaching, and curriculum." He criticized Kline’s writing for "vagueness, distortion of facts, undocumented statements and overgeneralization."

Kline continued his role as a mathematical gadfly with his 1966 article "Intellectuals and the schools: a case history" in Harvard Educational Review (36:505–11) . In 1970 he followed with "Logic versus pedagogy" in American Mathematical Monthly (77:264–82). In 1973 St. Martin’s Press contributed to the dialogue by publishing Kline’s critique,

*Why Johnny Can’t Add: the Failure of the New Math*. Its opening chapter is a parody of instruction as students’ intuitions are challenged by the new jargon. The book recapitulates the debates from

*Mathematics Teacher*, with Kline conceding some progress: He cites Howard Fehr of Columbia University who sought to unify the subject through its general concepts, sets, operations, mappings, relations, and structure.

In 1977 Kline turned to undergraduate university education; he took on the academic mathematics establishment with his

*Why the Professor Can’t Teach: the dilemma of university education*. Kline argues that requiring original mathematics from professors distracts them too much from the broad knowledge necessary to teach. He lauds scholarship as expressed by expository writing or reviews of original work of others. For scholarship he expects critical attitudes to topics, materials and methods. Among the rebuttals are those of May 1979 in

*American Mathematical Monthly* (86:401–12.) by D.T. Finkbeiner, Harry Pollard, and Peter Hilton, in which Pollard writes, "The society in which learning is admired and pursued for its own sake has disappeared." The Hilton review was more direct: Kline has "placed in the hand of enemies[a] weapon". Though Kline began, in 1956, with a call to action, once the mobilization was in motion he turned critic. Skilled expositor that he was, editors frequently felt his expressions were best tempered with rebuttal.

In considering what motivated Morris Kline to agitate so much we can look back to Professor Meder’s opinion in

*Mathematics Teacher* 51:433:

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*I am wondering whether in point of fact, Professor Kline really likes mathematics”. [...] I think that he is at heart a physicist, or perhaps a ‘natural philosopher’, not a mathematician, and that the reason he does not like the proposals for orienting the secondary school college preparatory mathematics curriculum to the diverse needs of the twentieth century by making use of some concepts developed in mathematics in the last hundred years or so is not that this is bad mathematics, but that it minimizes the importance of physics.*

It might appear so, as Kline recalls E. H. Moore’s recommendation to combine science and mathematics at the high school level in his

*Why Johnny Can’t Add* (p. 147). But closer reading shows Kline calling mathematics a "part of man’s efforts to understand and master his world", and he sees that role in a broad spectrum of sciences.