Sunday, May 3, 2009

No.22: Fallout Shelters and Modern Math

We were children of the Cold War.

One of the memorable impacts of historical events on our generation was the appearance around Tupelo of “fallout shelters” during the early 60s in response to a wide-spread concern about the build-up of Soviet nuclear capacity. I remember seeing signs like this one at Milam where the school’s basement became a Civil Defense fallout shelter. Somehow the tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis managed to penetrate the innocence of our childhood.

In 1957 the Soviets successfully launched their Sputnik, throwing our national leadership into a tailspin about the state of math and science education in this country. By the time we were in the seventh grade, Tupelo schools caught up with “modern math” and those horrible yellow paperback math books introduced more abstract math concepts to kids who were still learning the basics. All of a sudden we were talking about sets and subsets and alternatives to our base 10 system. And then there was the threat of the metric system overtaking our understanding of weights and measures.

It’s amazing we survived all of that spookiness with any sense of humor at all.


  1. Stan Byrd sent me the scan of our old geometry book. Now who besides Stan would have kept such a thing?

    Which reminds me. Any and all contributions from readers will be much appreciated.

  2. I had long forgotten those horrid yellow textbooks. Like most of your posts it brought back a flood of memories. On eof the things I have been trying to remember is whether we were as loaded down with books after a day of junior high school as my children were as they made their way to and from elementary school. I can still see my daughters hunched over trying to move with 25 pounds of books in their backpacks. I just don't remember having that many books, much less a back pack to carry them in. John you seem to remember all of these things. Any photos of a backpack or satchel for carrying books, pencils, etc. As far as books. I think I still have my Latin book. I'll look. One distinct smell I can remember was the old dark, dank Milam gym.

  3. That neon yellow book cover jogged my memory. It also reminded me that I do not remember carrying a backpack as kids do today. Maybe, what we used to call a book satchel. John, do you still have one of those around?

  4. Is John Nail still on this blog? He has an incredible memory about Joyner in the sixties, Milam, etc. I have a question about the National Guard Armory that was beside Joyner at that time. Was that their motor pool? I never knew exactly what the Guard did behind those fences. Anybody else have any idea?