Issue 18 - Feb 2006
Business and science groups in America are citing the space race of the Cold War as an example to try to persuade congress (The US version of our Parliament) to spend millions of dollars to recruit and train top class maths teachers.
The alliance argues that, just as a stronger focus on maths helped the United States top the Russian Sputnik launch by putting a man on the moon, the country needs to improve it's overall maths education to win an economic race with China and India and even a national security race against terrorism.
Groups are concerned that they will not be able to grab the attention of policymakers, without referencing something like Sputnik, which became both a national embarrassment and rallying point to accelerate U.S. maths and science efforts.
This lobbying also looks to public opinion, and it can be difficult to inspire much passion for maths even though Americans worry about jobs moving overseas, the number of college maths majors (Student's specialising in maths as a chosen subject) is declining and student maths scores lag behind those of many other countries.
The Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, an epic event to Americans alive at the time but now known to many only from brief references in history class. The United States sent Neil Armstrong on his moonwalk in 1969, ancient history for students now debating whether to take a tough high school math class or pursue maths careers.
Math for America offers scholarships, mentoring and pay bonuses to maths whizzes who become teachers. The program was founded by Jim Simons, who earned a doctorate in mathematics through a Pentagon program during the space race, worked as a math professor and went on to found a hedge fund and become a Wall Street billionaire.
Mathematician Jim Simons has hired a Washington lobbyist to urge the government to establish a program like his nationwide, and references to the Sputnik launch are also part of that lobbying effort. Simons vividly recalls the day Sputnik launched.
"Congress went bananas, said, 'Oh my God, the next thing, they'll have atomic bombs on the moon,'" Simons said. That prompted the government to invest in recruiting mathematicians and scientists and led to higher pay for math and science professors, he said.
Space race cited in push for math teachers
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