Reflecting on Sputnik:  Linking the Past, Present, and Future of Educational Reform
A symposium hosted by the Center for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Education

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Introduction
The NSF Strategy
MACOS Materials
Lessons Learned

 

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J. Myron Atkin
Rodger W. Bybee
George DeBoer
Peter Dow
Marye Anne Fox
John Goodlad
Jeremy Kilpatrick
(Glenda T. Lappan)
Thomas T. Liao
F. James Rutherford

 

 

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Introduction
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MACOS Materials
Lessons Learned

 

 

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Lessons from the Sputnik Era in Mathematics Education (continued)
Glenda T. Lappan, Michigan State University

The MACOS Materials: How Success Can Go Awry

Much of the curriculum development work in the 50s and 60s had as an underlying goal to bring the excitement of research in areas of science into the classroom, to engage students in activities that encouraged them to think like scientists. In September 1964 Jerome Bruner took a leave from Harvard to launch a project at Educational Services Incorporated (ESI) (now Educational Development Center (EDC)) to develop a Social Studies Program. These materials became the Man: A Course of Study (MACOS) curriculum. These were elementary school materials that combined pioneering fieldwork on the social behavior of baboons, with films of the Netsilik Eskimo done as a part of a Ford Foundation Project at ESI, and activities that gave children hands-on experiences in making sense of science and social science.

The intellectual underpinnings of MACOS are to be found in Bruner’s book The Process of Education which was a report of a conference at Woods Hole that was held in September 1959. The ideas of MACOS were exhilarating: that one could give children authentic experiences with real social science research and have them comprehend out of these experiences what the essence of being human is. Peter Dow, one of the MACOS team members, reports in School House Politics that as MACOS first hit the schools it was viewed with great excitement as an original and very engaging way to promote scientific literacy and to help children learn to think like social scientists. The dynamic engagement with ideas and with materials was heralded as a great achievement. The materials were distributed across the nation and acclaimed as an outstanding social studies curriculum.

By the early 70s however, the mood of the country was changing. Distrust of federally funded materials was increasing. A concern that mathematics curricula were not developing basic skills, that the materials were too esoteric and not of practical use, was heating up. And the pressure on MACOS was about to begin. “The first sign of impending trouble appeared in Lake City, a small market town in northern Florida (population 10,000), in the fall of 1970. Shortly after school opened in September, Reverend Don Glenn, a Baptist minister who had recently moved to Lake City visited his daughter’s sixth-grade class at the Minnie J. Niblack Elementary School and asked her teacher for copies of the MACOS materials” (Dow 1991, p.178). As Dow tells the story, the school was under a court ordered integration plan. The teachers had chosen the materials because they felt they might help ease racial tensions. However, when Reverend Glenn saw the materials he formed a study group to examine MACOS in detail. Glenn claimed that the materials advocated sex education, evolution, a “hippie-yippee philosophy,” pornography, gun control, and Communism. With support of a local radio station he broadcast four hour-long programs criticizing MACOS. He read excerpts from the student and teacher materials and warned that MACOS was a threat to democracy. This set off a growing series of attacks on MACOS over several years that led to a full scale Congressional debate of MACOS in both houses in 1975. NSF launched an internal review of its Education Directorate activities including an audit of the fiscal management of the project at EDC. While the audit revealed little to complain about, the damage in a sense was done. Dow quotes the former acting assistant director for science education, Harvey Averch, “It was the worst political crisis in NSF history.” (Dow 1991, p. 229).

The upshot of the MACOS controversy was a decade of little education activity at NSF. The Education Directorate was downsized to an Office with a skeleton staff and few programs. However, the outcry for a federal role in education finally overcame the conservative politics of the Reagan presidency, and in 1985 a Directorate for Science and Engineering Education was established within NSF. The initial level of funding for education efforts was not anywhere near the commitment of Congress to NSF education activities during the height of the curriculum development efforts of the 50s and 60s. However, the directorate was back in the business of supporting teacher enhancement and curriculum development in science and mathematics and has increased its activities dramatically in the past decade.

The question this session presents cuts to the heart of the matter: What have we learned from the Sputnik stimulated education activities that can help us in the current efforts to improve science and mathematics teaching and learning?

What have we learned from the Sputnik Era?


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