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

  Download this paper
(Microsoft Word)


Peter Dow
Buffalo Museum of Science

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center or the National Research Council. This paper has not been reviewed by the National Research Council.

  Symposium Main Page

    Current Paper Sections
Reform of the 60's
Reform of the 90's

  Other Papers
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

Center's Home Page  

Email questions or comments to

Reflecting on the launching of Sputnik on October 4th, 1957, the comedian Bob Hope is reported to have remarked, "Their German scientists are just smarter than our German scientists." Be that as it may, most Americans, so it seems, blamed our apparent technological inferiority to the Soviets on poor science teaching in our schools. Although a few concerned scholar-educators like Max Beberman at the University of Illinois and Jerrold Zacharias at MIT had already launched successful reform efforts in math and science education, it took the Russian achievement of lifting into space a 184 pound communications satellite -- followed within a month by sending up a half ton rocket carrying a live dog -- to arouse the United States to large-scale legislative action. Within less than a year, Congress passed, and President Eisenhower signed, the National Defense Education Act, the most far-reaching federally-sponsored education initiative in the nation's history. The bill authorized expenditures of more than $1 billion for a wide range of reforms including new school construction, fellowships and loans to encourage promising students to seek higher education, new efforts in vocational education to meet critical manpower shortages in the defense industry, and a host of other programs. Admiral Hyman Rickover, the outspoken director of the Navy's nuclear submarine project, expressed what most American's felt:

"We are engaged in a grim duel. We are beginning to recognize the threat to American technical supremacy which could materialize if Russia succeeds in her ambitious program of achieving world scientific and engineering supremacy by turning out vast numbers of well-trained scientists and engineers...We have let our educational problem grow much too big for comfort and safety. We are beginning to see now that we must solve it without delay."1

The Sputnik-inspired Reforms of the 60's

[Home] [Directories] [Publications] [Search] [Site Map] [About] [President's Corner] [Employment] [Browse] [Feedback]

 Copyright 1997 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.