May 11 2008

Math and Science Education — A Brief 21stCenturyWaves Perspective

Education has always been closely linked to space and this was never more true than on October 4, 1957, the day the world changed. That’s Sputnik Day — a time certainly not celebrated during the 1960s Apollo Maslow Window in the U.S. — when the Soviets launched humanity’s first artificial satellite into low Earth orbit. Ironically, American forces led by German rocket expert Wernher von Braun, could probably have orbited one first but President Eisenhower was in no hurry according to Paul Dickson in his 2001 book, Sputnik — The Shock of the Century.

Only 10 days later the New York Times identified U.S. education as the problem, because Soviet science students were better motivated and given more prestige. Scholastic Magazine chimed in by announcing a “classroom Cold War” with the Soviets. Indeed, within a few months a Gallup poll reported that 70% of respondents believed that U.S. high school students should become more educationally competitive with their Soviet counterparts! And in 1958 Congress advocated beefing up math and science education from the elementary to high schools. Senators as diverse as John F. Kennedy (soon to be the first “Space President”) of Massachusetts and Barry Goldwater of Arizona were even willing to accept new taxes to meet the Soviet educational challenge in space.

This is a hallmark of Maslow Windows: loosening of federal and other purse strings to pursue a lofty goal of international significance. In 1969 U.S. News & World Report reported that although initial cost estimates for the Moon project had been up to $ 40 B, “Congress raised hardly any questions (and)…Initial funds were appropriated swiftly to send Project Apollo on its way.”

As we approach the 1960s-style economic boom of the next Maslow Window (fully ramped-up by 2015) these patterns will repeat. In short: 1) a major Sputnik-like shock will occur near 2013 (1957 + 56) involving probably China and their international partners; see Wave Guide 5, 2) the American public will raise urgent questions about the viability of American math and science education and demand reforms, and 3) the new “Space President”, a John F. Kennedy-like figure, will respond by committing the U.S. to spectacular, unprecedented activities in space with essentially unanimous support from Congress; see Wave Guide 3.

Upcoming posts will track this burgeoning tsunami of public concern about American math and science education as it peaks and breaks on the shore of international affairs within a few short years.

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