Paul’s Perambulations

March 15, 2012

My life and education under the National Defense Education Act of 1958.

Filed under: Education,Politics,Work — admin @ 1:33 pm

About half a century ago, the U.S. government began to impose its will on education, big time. And I was a student unknowingly in the midst of it.  (The following quotes are from hi-lited links) “The National Defense Education Act of 1958 was the most important federal bill related to higher education since the 1862 Morrill Act”  ”By 1958 the Soviet threat grew more immediate; the Soviet Union had launched Sputnik in late 1957, suggesting the capability to launch offensive missiles at the United States. For the first time in the decade, the president recommended deferring plans for school construction (Paul comment – Keep in mind that some traditional educational endeavors were financial losers under this new Act )  in favor of support for the sciences. The National Defense Education Act provided $887 million over four years for education that could support national security goals—especially training scientists.” “Before 1958, approximately 1.5 percent of the nation’s GDP went to R&D, with half from the private sector and half from government. By the mid-1960s, the investment had climbed to 3.2 percent of GDP; some 70 percent of the nation’s entire research effort now came from federal coffers.  Since Sputnik, an estimated 75 percent of all engineers and scientists who entered the field of scientific research have gone into federally subsidized undertakings in both public and private sectors. Fortune magazine stated the obvious in 1976: “science and technology have become the wards of the federal government.”  Today (2012) “America’s investment in basic research is also stagnant. Despite the increase in privately funded R&D, most of the investment is in applied areas.”

My life?? I came of age when the Space Race was going full tilt. There was an enormous amount of new money and a raft of new science programs proposing to spend it. The University I attended as an undergraduate was in the middle of this wild race, and as in any uncontrolled new race, there were many accidents and mis-endeavors. In my experience these new science and research endeavors were so badly executed that this came close to turning me off to education all together. On the other hand, while doing my graduate work I was totally supported through my mentor’s grants, coming from the NSF and the U.S. Navy. The interesting thing is that, at the time, I had no idea of how my life was being affected/manipulated by the politics of the Cold War. Was it just chance that my physics and calculus courses seemed to be full of examples that involved intercepting space vehicles?  I was offered an opportunity to do my own research for NASA after receiving my Ph.D , but by then I had finally begun to understand what was happening and declined.

Oh, and just to make clear what this Education Act was really all about (the cold war, national defense and all that), a major feature of the Act was the (in)famous Loyalty Oath that was required of all those who directly received these grants.

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