In 1957, when the former Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite, citizens immediately became concerned about what its launch meant for the United States.
That year, the Florida State Legislature launched the Florida Foundation for Future Scientists, which sought to “discover scientific and technical talent in the schools of Florida and to encourage the pursuit of careers in science and engineering.”
The race for space was underway.
Sevan Terzian, author and University of Florida associate professor of education, says his new book, Science Education and Citizenship: Fairs, Clubs and Talent Searches for American Youth, 1918-1958, delves into science education in early 20th century America. His research shows that the U.S. had national science education goals long before Sputnik was launched into orbit, he said.
Terzian said there was focus on science education as early as the end of World War I, but the mobilization for World War II was the turning point in the United States.
Previously, the education goals were to train youth for jobs and encourage rational thinking so they would be better equipped to solve problems in the real world, but WWII shifted the focus to national security Terzian said.
He said while it would have been better for the schools to be as inclusive as possible, there were a “host of inequalities in secondary education” that kept different groups from participating.
Terzian said these inequalities may have indirectly created “an image of who looks like a scientist or who can become a scientist, which may have discouraged people from participating in similar programs.”
He said women, people of color and rural youth were often left out of such educational programs.
“If a large segment of your population doesn’t understand how science works, they are going to be somewhat alienated from a lot public discourse and decision making that impacts millions of lives,” Terzian said.
Terzian’s book is available now in hardcover for $85 or on the Amazon Kindle for $65. He hopes that it will be available in paperback within the year.
Casey Christ wrote this story online.