Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Sputnik was Secondary News at WRA in 1957

Fifty years ago this month, Sputnik, the first space satellite launched by the Soviet Union, was the top news story and eventually had repercussions in the field of American education. Here at WRA, although the Reserve Record boasted that we were not "cloistered away from the hurly-burly of current affairs," the Russian space achievement was not uppermost in campus concerns because October 1957 was also the month that the Asian flu struck the campus.

It hit Reserve particularly hard as a boarding school. Headmaster John W. Hallowell declared the Academy ready to fight the virus, and while he had not wanted to close the school, eventually classes were suspended for a few days. On Thursday, October 13, 1957, 130 students were ill, which was about half the school. The Reserve Record responded by publishing a satirical issue that carried the serious headline: FLU HITS!

By the following Wednesday, the school had nearly "returned to full strength" with only 26 reported ill and all classes meeting as normal. So the great debate about the message of Sputnik was reduced to a reference about "Russia's latest technical achievements" in a chapel talk, some offhand remarks about "going into orbit," and a cartoon in the Reserve Record (pictured here). In their class legacy statement in the Hardscrabble,
the senior class made no mention of Sputnik or the changes it might bring: "We will leave no legacy except the fact that we were here and enjoyed it." The upgrade to the science curriculum would occur later and seems to have been influenced more by the emphasis on advanced placement tests rather than the outcry over Sputnik.