Elite vs. Mass Education

May 7, 1958

Report Outline
Mass Education and Waste of Brainpower
Contrasts in U.S. and European Education
Aid for Talented American Students

Mass Education and Waste of Brainpower

Orbiting of the first Russian sputnik last October awakened the people of the United States to the fact that this country's advanced position in scientific research and technological accomplishment was open to effective challenge by its chief rival for world leadership. Government officials and study groups for years had been sounding warnings about the short supply of American scientists and engineers in contrast to an impressively large annual turnout of scientists and engineers from Soviet universities and technical schools, But it took the spectacular Russian “firsts” with earth satellites to arouse and alarm the American public.

The Eisenhower administration moved to meet the Soviet challenge by proposing a program of federal aid to strengthen teaching facilities—particularly in science and mathematics—and to increase educational opportunities for talented students. It was generally recognized, however, that fundamental educational reforms might be needed. With basic American educational principles and practices under widespread questioning, attention was drawn to methods followed in Soviet and other European educational systems. It seemed vitally important to find out where and to what extent American schools were falling down on the job and how they might profit from the experience of foreign countries.

Cold War as Impetus to Educational Reform

Strong impetus was given to such exploration by general concern that the United States should keep ahead of or abreast with the Russians in technological competition. The Soviet sputniks made plainly apparent the close connection between effective education and national survival. Rear Admiral H. G. Rickover, proponent of nuclear-powered ships and a frequent critic of this country's schools, suggested last December that the sputniks might do for American education what Pearl Harbor did for U.S. industrial and military progress: “Then as now a dramatic occurrence suddenly revealed that we had failed to develop our capacities to their maximum potential. But as we found then that in a national emergency we could … perform industrial miracles, so I am convinced we can now take similar action and perform educational miracles.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Gifted Education and Tracking
Mar. 28, 1997  Educating Gifted Students
Jul. 30, 1993  Intelligence Testing
Dec. 28, 1990  Why Schools Still Have Tracking
May 15, 1987  Magnet Schools
Sep. 14, 1979  Educating Gifted Children
Oct. 28, 1959  Education of Gifted Children
May 07, 1958  Elite vs. Mass Education
Nov. 23, 1955  Schooling for Fast and Slow Learners
Education Policy
Research in Education