This is Not the First Time America has Fallen Behind in Education

WE HAD TO PLAY CATCH-UP WHEN THE USSR LAUNCHED SPUTNIK

As I watched Brian Williams’ Education Nation  report on the education crisis in America on Nightly News,  I had reflect on the resemblance to the same crisis that we had in 1957, when Dwight Eisenhower was president.  That crisis was the subject of one of the very few actual commentaries I did in my broadcast journalism career.

I was working at WSB Radio in Atlanta at the time.  The Associated Press decided to start an awards program for excellence in broadcast news reporting in Georgia.  WSB Radio took just about all of the first place awards, including commentary, which was something that was not normally done on WSB at that time. Program Manager Elmo Ellis ask me if I wanted to do one. He said we would be sure to win because no one else had entered one.  WSB did one that year, and guess who won the  first AP Award for a commentary on radio in Georgia.  Elmo was right. We were the only station to enter one.

I did that commentary on the emphasis that America had to place on education in order to catch up with the Soviet Union which had shocked the world when it put Sputnik into orbit. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was, I think , something to effect that being a teacher was a very important job and that teacher pay had to be made competitive with other professions in order to get the best people to make teaching their career.

That emphasis did catch on and more money was poured into education and improvement all over the country was quick in coming.  It wasn’t because of my tape recorded editorial.  WSB Radio’s Georgia audience was huge, with more people listening when I did the morning news than all other Atlanta stations combined. And since WSB was a 50,000-watt AM station, it had quite a reach at night and was considered a “national” station, but its national audience was miniscule.  I don’t know when the editorial ran. I didn’t hear it on the air. It could have run at 2 in the morning for all I know. It didn’t matter. It served its purpose by winning the AP Award for Excellence in Broadcast News.    

As you know, the United States caught up with and passed the Soviet Union in space, and the country’s education system benefited from that.  But, we let things slip, and now our education system is behind a number of developed nations.  If something isn’t done, it will have a bad effect on the country’s economic health. Those who can do something about it now realize that, so there is hope.

NASA produced replica of Sputnik 1

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2 Responses to “This is Not the First Time America has Fallen Behind in Education”

  1. Bain Cowell Says:

    I remember Sputnik. I listened intently as a high-school buddy (in Ohio), a ham radio operator, tuned into the “beep-beep-beep” shortwave signal from the spacecraft. A year later our school hired a young math teacher who introduced us to number theory, Boolean algebra, Venn diagrams, and matrices, which seemed scarily innovative then but underlay the computer revolution of the next half-century.

    Straws in the wind: The rush of recent Ivy League graduates to apply to Teach for America, the newly announced documentary “Waiting for Superman” directed by Davis Guggenheim, President Obama’s call for a longer school year, and a gushing of news stories. Do these herald another educational Great Awakening among America’s elites?

  2. Richard Says:

    The sad thing about this post is that WSB could sweep most of the A.P. radio awards in Georgia today, in 2010.

    The only real competition in Atlanta is WGST, and a nicely-rebuilt WABE news shop.

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