Sputnik: Changing The Realm Of American Education

1140 words - 5 pages

On October 4, 1957, a beach ball sized satellite that weighed one hundred and fifty eight pounds was launched into space by the U.S.S.R. The satellite, named Sputnik, contained a single radio transmitter that did little more than send a continual beeping that could be tracked on land. Sputnik was relatively insignificant when used as a device to gather useful information from space. Nevertheless, the small satellite was launched to prove a point and initiated a “space race” that would eventually lead to the creation of our space programs and a dramatic change in our educational systems. It was launched ahead of America’s planned satellite, Vanguard, which showed the world that a communist nation could beat the United States in the technology race.The launching of Sputnik caused an enormous blow to the morale of America. From the single launch, America’s esteemed reputation was under scrutiny and the country became unnerved. “What Sputnik demonstrated was that we were soft, sinful, and stupid people.” (Freund 1) It forced Americans to lend scientific credibility to the Soviets along with their potential political and military threats. It gave the nation a glimpse of other country’s roles in the future of the world. But above all, it forced the Americans to take a closer look at their educational systems and provoked reforms in schools nationwide.As a result of Sputnik, Americans saw that they were dealing with a new kind of opponent, one equipped with a calculator instead of a weapon. A fascinating article from Life magazine compared the life of a Soviet teenage boy to that of an American teenage boy. The article emphasized how the Soviet teenager was two full years ahead of the American academically because of the amount of discipline in the Soviet education system. (Clowse 31) The piece explained that the Soviets were busy studying and reading, while the Americans were involved in extracurricular activities. From these publications came the demand of improved educational systems in the United States.In 1958, the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) was passed and intended to promote knowledge in the core classes of science, math, and foreign languages. The goal of this was to bring “American education to levels consistent with the needs of our society.” (Dickson 3) It was the government’s way of producing future scientists with the ability to advance the space race. Schools now placed new emphasis on the process of creative thinking rather than memorization and drills. Laboratory science was stressed, and fluency in modern languages became a necessity to students. The traditional American education would forever be changed as a result of the NDEA.The government took this program very seriously and made tremendous efforts to make NDEA work. Congress allocated huge amounts of money to scholarships and stipends to help students pursue degrees in science or engineering. $295 million dollars were...

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