Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Beep Heard Round the World

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

The Beep Heard Round the World

Article excerpt

IN MANY ways 1958 was a watershed year for U.S. education--and for me. Readers of a certain age will surely find the brief history lesson with which Gerald Bracey opens this year's Bracey Report more reminder than news release. For me, it's a bit of both.

I was just an 8-year-old (go ahead, do the math!) back in 1957, but even I recall overhearing what being leapfrogged by the Russians meant. Grown-ups spoke in hushed tones--both on the back porch and at that hotbed of political commentary, the local barbershop--about bombs falling from above the sky. Not long thereafter, my dad began reading books that pointed accusing fingers at the schools. And I heard him talking about how Russian schools tested everyone and didn't let just anyone go to high school. Meanwhile, our own overcrowded schools and shiftless teachers weren't requiring enough solid work from students. "Rigor" anyone?

It was a facile leap from getting beat out of the starting gate in the space race to blaming schools and educators for somehow shirking their duties. But it was no more facile than blaming the schools for the economic doldrums of the early 1980s, as the commission that wrote A Nation at Risk so glibly did.

Logical or not, the late 1950s were pretty dismal days for U.S. education, as Bracey reminds us. What's more, it emerges from his historical tour that President Eisenhower chose not to be first into space way back in 1956. And he did it for geopolitical reasons that seemed to make sense in those early days of the Cold War. …

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