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A Message from the NEA-Retired President

Something to Consider

On October 4, 1957, weeks after I became a teacher, the Russians launched Sputnik 1—the world’s first artificial Earth satellite. Once every 96 minutes, Sputnik circled the earth, emitting a beep detectable by short wave radio.

It was a significant event in the Cold War—one that proved Russia was ahead of us in the race to space, and caused great alarm throughout the U.S. Would they launch atomic warheads next?

Intense public reaction led to what then-President Dwight Eisenhower termed the Sputnik Crisis. The result? New government agencies and increased government spending on scientific research and education.

Sputnik also helped to create NASA, and laid the groundwork for the National Defense of Education Act. The law called for national advances in science and technology, and encouraged students to attend college and study math and science, tuition free. U.S. schools emphasized science and technology. Math and science teachers increased their skills through summer school programs.

And our nation’s space program burst forward, eventually sending astronauts to the moon. Our leaders’ efforts to create a strong future ahead paid off!

As This Active Life heads to press, our nation’s government is shutdown over a congressional squabble originally centered on Obamacare. And I am wondering this: How would today’s leaders have reacted to Sputnik? Would they see the value of supporting public schools—and by extension, our nation’s future—or would they give our schools an ‘F’, withdraw funding, and heap blame upon teachers?

It’s something to consider. It’s also something that makes me glad I was teaching in 1957!

—Tom Curran

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