The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945-1980

By Diane Ravitch | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
Reformers, Radicals, and Romantics

ULIKE HIGHER EDUCATION, where the mood was one of confidence and optimism as the 1960s began, America's elementary and secondary schools were struggling to readjust to the new demands of the post-Sputnik era. The Soviet launch of the world's first artificial satellite on October 4, 1957, promptly ended the debate that had raged for several years about the quality of American education. Those who had argued since the late 1940s that American schools were not rigorous enough and that life adjustment education had cheapened intellectual values felt vindicated, and, as one historian later wrote, "a shocked and humbled nation embarked on a bitter orgy of pedagogical soul-searching." National magazines discovered a new crisis in education, and critics like Admiral Hyman Rickover--known as the father of the nuclear submarine--vociferously blamed the schools for endangering the nation's security by falling behind the Russians in science, mathematics, and engineering. Regardless of what was said, there was Sputnik itself, orbiting the earth as a constant reminder that political supremacy was tied to technological prowess. For the first time since the end of World War II, people of all political backgrounds agreed that the national interest depended on improving the quality of America's schools.1

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