LESSONS FROM THE SPUTNIK ERA
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|During the Second World War thousands of young men were
drafted into military service. As the branches of the service tested
recruits in mathematics, they discovered that their level of
mathematical knowledge was very low¾far too low to satisfy the
military that the country had the technical expertise to support military
supremacy in the cold war years. Concerns heated up in the country
over the lack of mathematics and science skills of young people. Dr.
Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and
Development, chaired a presidential committee that in 1945 issued a
report entitled Science the Endless Frontier. This report called for
bipartisan federal support for science, including mathematics,
technology and higher education. The foundation of the argument
presented was that the U.S. victory in World War II had hinged on
technological superiority, and that without federal support in
peacetime, any future conflicts might result in defeat due to scientific
deficiencies. Dr. Bush called for a renewal of scientific talent to meet
national security needs. One primary recommendation of the report
was the creation of a national agency to fund research in
mathematics, science, and engineering. In addition, the agency was to
work to increase the scientific and technical person-power of this
country. In response, the National Science Foundation (NSF) was
established in 1950 and has been the backbone of support for
mathematics and science and for science and mathematics education
ever since. |
During the fifties the debate in Congress about federal aid to schools continued. The recession had caused schools to be neglected. Buildings were in disrepair, new schools were needed, and resources for educating students were lacking. The arguments in Congress centered on a debate between aid to schools that would build buildings and a defense-education bill. Sputnik tipped the scale in favor of the National Defense Education Act that was passed in 1958 with an allocation of almost one billion dollars for education in the name of national defense. The NDEA had major provisions for loans to higher education students; fellowships for advanced study of mathematics and science; guidance counseling and testing to identify able students; improvement of K-12 science, mathematics, and foreign language programs; vocational programs; and research on effective uses of television and other media for educational purposes. Now there were two arsenals deployed in the aftermath of the war to strengthen the scientific capabilities of the country¾the NSF and the NDEA.
Copyright 1997 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.