How the Cold War and Sputnik Made School Homework a U.S. Priority


After a period of shunning homework at the turn of the 20th century, the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik 1 spurred an urgent U.S. focus on schoolchildren’s workloads.

Middle-schoolers who trudge home each day with a 50-pound backpack and hours of homework would have had an easier time in 1901. That’s when the anti-homework movement was at its peak and the state of California actually banned all homework for grades below high school.

From the late 19th century through the Great Depression, homework was a popular punching bag of the progressive education movement, a “child-centered” approach championed by psychologist and reformer John Dewey. Not only was homework a waste of time, progressive educators believed, but it was detrimental to children’s health. 

Thanks for watching!

By 1948, only 8 percent of American high school students reported studying for two or more hours each night. Homework might have remained in the educational doghouse if not for the arrival of the Cold War, and specifically, the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957.

Soviet technician working on Sputnik 1, circa 1957. 

Soviet technician working on Sputnik 1, circa 1957. 

To the horror of many Americans, the Space Race was being won by communist scientists from the Soviet Union.

“This elicited widespread fear that we were being undone by our schools,” says Steven Schlossman, a historian at Carnegie Mellon University. “How could it be that the Soviets had gotten there faster? They must have better schools that are training their kids to become scientists on a higher level. America now had to integrate schools into our thinking about national defense policy.”

As far as education was concerned, there was plenty of rethinking to do. Around the late 19th century, with the arrival of waves of immigrants, officials had begun shifting public education policies to best serve the rapidly changing face of America.

Until then, Schlossman says most schoolwork revolved around drill, memorization and recitation. Kids were expected to “say their lessons,” which meant memorizing long passages of history texts and poetry, drilling math problems, and reciting it all out loud in class. All of that memorization and recitation meant hours of practice at home every night. But as America and its students became more diverse, the rigidity of rote memorization seemed insufficient.

If schools were going to offer equal education opportunities for all students, they needed to do it scientifically, and the leading educational minds of the day were fascinated with the emerging fields of psychology and child development.



Source link Home Defense Ideas

How do you feel about this post?
0
0
0
0
0
0

Adam Jacob

Military veteran and medically trained.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *