Thursday, August 21, 2008

Science, Sputniks, Space

The state of American education as observed in the 1959 World Book Annual Supplement:

EDUCATION won an economic "shot in the arm" in August, 1958, that will affect education from the elementary school to the most advanced college level. Congress passed the $861,000,000 National Defense Education Act, a sweeping four-year program that makes federal grants to deserving students and schools. In this way the law seeks to promote science, mathematics, and foreign-language instruction. It also tries to improve testing, guidance, and counseling; to extend audio-visual techniques; to broaden vocational education; and to finance fellowships and loans for needy college students. But it allows no funds for teacher salaries or school construction.

The plan's cost for the first year is estimated at $200,000,000. Congress authorized $661,000,000 to be spent from 1959 to 1962. The loans will be administered by various colleges, and the rest of the plan will be managed by state departments of education.

Soviet Impact. The technological success of the U.S.S.R. continued to challenge the interest of American educators. A delegation led by U.S. Commissioner of Education Lawrence G. Derthick spent 3o days visiting Soviet schools. After returning to the U.S., Derthick said, "What we have seen has amazed us ... everywhere we went we saw indication after indication of a ... total commitment to education."

The impact of Soviet educational progress prompted educators to strengthen mathematics, science, and foreign-language instruction further. Some school systems decided to cut out "nonessential" courses, such as driver-education courses, and tighten school discipline. Perhaps the most visible effect was the increase of Russian-language teaching in high schools and colleges. Early in the year, only 18 high schools in the nation were known to offer Russian. By the end of the year, the number of high schools teaching Russian had tripled, and universities were adding Slavic studies as fast as the supply of instructors and textbooks permitted.