One of the most significant historical and scientific changes to directly impact and shift the field of education and thus its thought and philosophy was the space race of the 1950’s and 60’s.
Prior to the 1950’s the schools of idealism and realism permeated. John Dewey’s work in Progressivism marked a current into the pragmatic. However, when the Russians launched Sputnik, and the blips of the satellite could be heard over American radio, America felt exposed, threatened, and deficient. The fear of falling further behind in math, science, and engineering, Sputnik set a purpose to education.
Congress acted quickly and established the National Defense Education Act of 1958. “This funded new science education equipment for primary and secondary schools, as well as loans to college students in science and related fields. The budget of the National Science Foundation, formed in 1955, tripled the year after Sputnik's launch” (Rissing, 2007). Accompanied by duck and cover rehearsals, the emergence of bomb shelters, and daily air raid sirens, the Space Race had begun. New realist curricula focused on math and science sprouted up to the meet the needs of the country.
However rationale or irrational, this Cold War atmosphere did not celebrate the individual or the individuals experience. The Realist curriculum emphasized the physical world to now include that, which was far beyond the clouds – the stars and beyond. Schools focused on a mastery of facts and basic skills. Content was organized systematically within a discipline, demonstrating use of criteria in making decisions (Cohen, 1999). Not far off was the ebbing of standardization – thanks Sputnik! (Kidding, sort of)
Cohen, L. (1999). Four General or World Philosophies. Oregon State University, Education. OSU.
Rissing, S. (2007, October 2). Launch changed U.S. science, math education. The Columbus Dispatch.