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The Impact Of Sputnik And The Ndea On American Education

2385 words - 10 pages

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik satellite into space, putting a big question mark to the framework of American education. Sputnik incited fear in the American leaders as well as the majority of the population, but not only because of the imagined implications of being spied on or being crushed if the satellite should fall from space. The launch of Sputnik led the United States to question its position of “technological superiority to Soviet Russia, and left government officials, politicians, scientists, and educators scrambling to find way to close the gap” (Concannon & Barrow, 2011, pg. 369).
The years that followed World War II had produced substantial changes ...view middle of the document...

As men returned from the war and middleclass women found themselves returning to the status of homemakers after the freedom of wartime jobs, women’s liberation, the second wave of the women’s rights movement, began to creep into social awareness. In spite of these tremors preceding the immense social changes to come, the United States felt solid after the War and her citizens felt “good about themselves and their nation’s egalitarian traditions” (Rury, 2009, pg. 185). The launch of Sputnik changed all that. As noted above, Sputnik shook the nation’s confidence and led the United States to question if it was now second to Russia.
Critics of progressive education had been attacking the educational system for quite some time for what they felt was too much concentration on “life adjustment” skills and too little on conventional subjects such as science, math, and reading. (Devine, 1993 pg. 52). They argued that it was the excellence of the Russian schools that made the launch of Sputnik possible because the schools produced the Russian scientists and engineers. “Conversely, many thought the United States found itself second best in [the development of scientists, engineers, and] space exploration because its educational system was second best” (Herold, 1974, pg. 144). Though there had been criticisms of the United States’ education system previously, Sputnik was the catalyst that made the general public finally take notice: “1957 had begun quietly enough in education, but by year’s end the two Soviet satellites had changed the public attitude toward education and people were asking whether their children were being educated properly” (pg. 146).
Between the months of March and April 1958 Life Magazine published a comprehensive five-part series devoted to the crisis of the educational system in the United States. Two 16-year-old schoolboys were selected as examples of the two systems: Stephen Lapekas from Chicago and his Russian counterpart, Alexey Kutskov, from Moscow.
The first issue, published on March 24, 1958, cited the problems of over-crowded schools, underpaid teachers, and the fundamental lack of investment in education needed to advance “the young minds of great promise” (Life Magazine, 1958). The article notes that “a surprisingly small percentage of high school students [are] studying what used to be considered basic subjects. Only 12% [were] taking mathematics more advanced than algebra, and only 25% [were] studying physics” (Wilson, 1958, pg. 36); in addition, ten million Russians were studying English, yet only 8,000 Americans were studying Russian (pg. 36).
The articles in the issues that followed centered on subjects of teachers – their pay, their being overworked, and their lack of training; the waste of gifted minds as gifted children were educated the same as others; new ideas in math and science; and the role of parents in the education of their children (Webber, 2011).
Concerns about and changes in the educational...

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