A behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the National Defense Education Act.
Sparked by dramatic Soviet achievements, particularly in nuclear technology and the development of the Sputnik space orbiter, the United States responded in the late 1950s with an extraordinary federal investment in education. Designed to overcome a perceived national failure to produce enough qualified scientists, engineers, and mathematicians to compete with the Communist bloc, the effort resulted in the National Defense Education Act of 1958 (NDEA). Representative Carl Elliott and Senator Lister Hill both from Alabama, and then Assistant Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Elliot Richardson were the prime movers in shaping of this landmark legislation.
More than Science and Sputnik analyzes primary documents of the three leaders to describe the political process that established the NDEA. The book illustrates what the assumptions of the key players were, and why they believed the act was needed.
Wayne J. Urban is Associate Director of the Education Policy Center and Professor of Higher Education Administration at The University of Alabama.
“If the National Defense Education Act of 1958 (NDEA) were a food, it would be Spam. Like that iconic Cold War–era tin of fallout shelter fare, the NDEA story that we serve up in our history books has been processed so many times we have no idea what ingredients actually went into making it. Although no one may ever know what really goes into Spam, thanks to Wayne J. Urban’s first-rate new history, More than Science and Sputnik, we now know more about the history of the NDEA than ever before. Well written and rigorously researched, Urban’s book is an important addition to the historical literature. . . . Urban’s meticulous examination of the act’s key architects marks the book’s most important contribution.” —History of Education Quarterly
"This is a powerful history; its integration with ongoing policy issues makes it outstanding. This is Wayne Urban at his best." —Historical Studies in Education
“The National Defense Education Act broke a log-jam of opposition to federal aid to elementary and secondary education in 1958. Many believe that the launch of the Soviet’s Sputnik satellite enabled the bill’s proponents to get it through Congress. But historians have pointed out that the scientific community’s pressure for science and math education started long before Sputnik. Now Wayne Urban’s exciting new book takes that argument a big step farther. He argues that we must see this in the more general context of the agendas of politicians like Congressman Carl Elliott and Senator Lister Hill, white liberals from Alabama, to achieve federal education aid in any form, for whatever reason. They allied with President Eisenhower and the young Assistant Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Elliott Richardson, to move the NDEA through Congress, each for his own reasons. Urban’s assessment is loaded with fresh insights about the meaning and legacy of this act for the various players, including also the scientific community and the National Education Association. Bravo.” —Carl Kaestle, Professor Emeritus of Education, History and Public Policy at Brown University and coeditor of Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States, 1880-1945
“The passage of the National Defense Education Act broke the dam of a hundred years of federal inaction in American education; its passage was an essential precursor to the landmark legislation of the 1960s and transformed the federal role in education in America.” —Mary Allen Jolley, Legislative Clerk, House of Representatives Subcommittee on Special Education, 1957–58