Sputnik: Changing the Realm of American Education

Essay by jasonchaoCollege, UndergraduateA+, March 2007

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On October 4, 1957, a beach ball sized satellite that weighed one hundred and fifty eight pounds was launched into space by the U.S.S.R. The satellite, named Sputnik, contained a single radio transmitter that did little more than send a continual beeping that could be tracked on land. Sputnik was relatively insignificant when used as a device to gather useful information from space. Nevertheless, the small satellite was launched to prove a point and initiated a “space race” that would eventually lead to the creation of our space programs and a dramatic change in our educational systems. It was launched ahead of America’s planned satellite, Vanguard, which showed the world that a communist nation could beat the United States in the technology race.

The launching of Sputnik caused an enormous blow to the morale of America. From the single launch, America’s esteemed reputation was under scrutiny and the country became unnerved.

“What Sputnik demonstrated was that we were soft, sinful, and stupid people.” (Freund 1) It forced Americans to lend scientific credibility to the Soviets along with their potential political and military threats. It gave the nation a glimpse of other country’s roles in the future of the world. But above all, it forced the Americans to take a closer look at their educational systems and provoked reforms in schools nationwide.

As a result of Sputnik, Americans saw that they were dealing with a new kind of opponent, one equipped with a calculator instead of a weapon. A fascinating article from Life magazine compared the life of a Soviet teenage boy to that of an American teenage boy. The article emphasized how the Soviet teenager was two full years ahead of the American academically because of the amount of discipline in the Soviet education system. (Clowse 31) The piece explained...