Those of us who remember the launch of Sputnik, 50 years ago this week, know it set America on a new course in education. What was instantly felt as a blow to the leadership of the USA launched a revival of science and technology teaching in the schools. Educators recognized that they were responsible to a new young generation that needed to be prepared to compete with and surpass Soviet science and technology.
The picture above is of young Sergei Khrushchev, Soviet dictator Nikita’s son, flanked by cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova and Yuri Gagarin, 1963. It is on loan from Sergei Khrushchev’s personal collection to the website of Brown University where he now teaches.
A story this week in Space Daily — prompted by the Sputnik anniversary — includes observations by Sergei Khrushchev, who is a year older than I am. I remember too, and agree with what he says:
On October 4, 1957, the shiny, 58-centimeter (23-inch) spherical satellite beamed its now famous distorted beeps back to earth, announcing the start of man’s conquest of space.
The next day, the official Soviet newspaper Pravda gave Sputnik a few lines.
The space launch was at first perceived as just another breakthrough in Soviet technology, said the son of Krushchev, who ruled from 1953-1964.
“It was proving that we were on the right road” technologically, he said.
For the United States, instead, Sputnik boosted awareness about the challenge of space at the height of the Cold War, Sergei Krushchev said.
“It was a wakeup call for the US,” he said. “All threats are creating this paranoia that can be used in a positive or negative way. The fear after Sputnik was used in a positive way, with consequences on education.”
In its effort to win the space race, the United States revised academic programs and increased funding for the study of science and a presidential advisor for sciences was appointed. Eventually, in July 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) came into being.
“It was no space race with the USSR, it was an American race with itself,” Sergei Kruschchev said.
I propose that educators today thus far are not using a blossoming paranoia in a positive way: they don’t want even to see at school the mobiles that students in today’s young generation almost all now have in their pockets. This failure to notice a fundamental of the future is particularly thoroughgoing in the USA and other traditional education cultures. Banning mobile phones from classrooms is like trying to reach the moon with propeller driven aircraft. Educators need to wakeup to the potential role of the mobiles in the highest quality learning ever known that lies ahead. Educators need to invent mobile learning or those young people for whom they are responsible will not finish well in the race for learning.