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In light of recent national and international events, REED magazine invited alumni, faculty members, and students to share their thoughts about the future.

Russian lessons
By Martha Darling ’66

Asked by Reed to reflect on how international events of the past year have affected the field of education, I found my thoughts turning to another unsettling time. Not Pearl Harbor, although September 11, 2001 has surely joined December 7, 1941 as a date that will live on in “infamy”. My personal memories were of 1957. On October 4th of that year Americans first discovered that the oceans could no longer protect us from distant enemies. The Soviet Union had launched the first earth satellite, Sputnik. Geography, which had afforded our continent its long-held sense of security, had been trumped by technology.

For Americans not old enough to remember, it may be difficult to grasp the shock Sputnik caused among the American public. People saw in this Soviet success in missile propulsion and satellites the possibility that our national security could be breached from space. The response from national policy makers was swift. With strong backing from public opinion, both military and civilian efforts in space were intensified, with technological progress eventually leading to the moon landing in 1969.

The American response to Sputnik had another critical thrust - education. Within days of Sputnik’s launch, the head of the American Institute of Physics called for America’s school children to learn the importance of science. The newly discovered “technology gap” was traced to a “knowledge gap” between the Soviet Union and the United States. Erasing that gap became a matter of national security. Declaring that “an educational emergency” existed, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act of 1958. The legislation identified certain short-supply skill areas as essential to the national defense and committed the country to dramatic increases in funding. Over the following four years, the NDEA pumped almost a billion dollars into a variety of university-level and K-12 programs targeting math, science, engineering and foreign language and area studies. Federal aid was directed to undergraduate and graduate students preparing for teaching and non-teaching careers in these key fields; to states for the purchase of equipment for K-12 science, math and language instruction; and to universities for the creation of language and area studies institutes.

As I was in the immediate post-Sputnik wave of high school students, my course load was reflective of America’s focus on the knowledge gap. In addition to a full complement of science and math, I had, by the time I arrived at Reed, completed two years of Russian, in addition to a more classical three years of Latin. The Russian lessons said it all.

I am struck by the parallels between America’s responses to Sputnik and to September 11. The shock and sense of vulnerability are obvious, as is a government initially focussed on the physical side of national security. However, as in 1957, we have identified a “knowledge gap”, an inadequate number of Americans with knowledge and skills about those regions that have taken on a new strategic importance since last September. Closing a perceived gap in educational attainment is once again on the national agenda and is producing a windfall of funding and student interest analogous to the post-Sputnik period. A one-year 26% boost in federal funding for the study of Central and South Asia, the Middle East, and Russia and countries formerly part of the Soviet Union will permit a doubling of fellowships for the study of critical languages, and the creation of new university centers for language learning and area studies.

Were I a high school student today, my Russian lessons would still serve. But I suspect Arabic or Urdu might be more appealing. small bullet

Martha Darling ’66 is an education policy consultant with the National Academy of Sciences.

Exploring outer space
By Anne Elson ’69

On the day of September 11th my husband and I were far away from the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), on a bicycle trip in Northern Italy. Our group heard the news as we waited for a ferry to take us out to the islands of Venice when one of our group called her daughter in New York City from a pay phone by the ferry dock. As Wendy started repeating out loud what her daughter was telling her on the phone we all gathered in shock around the phone booth. The then unfolding story of those terrible events made all of us anxious to get to our hotel and to CNN television coverage (which was very thorough). I should also add we were on the last day of our bicycle trip so these events made for some very interesting trip endings within the group on the days to follow. Lee and I were fortunate in that we were staying in Italy for 3 more days after the tour ended. We were able fly back to the United States on the first day that US Air (our carrier) resumed flights between Rome and the USA. Many others of our group who had flights scheduled for home right after the tour got stranded in Italy for many extra days.

My husband Lee and I both work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. We arrived back at work the next Monday morning to find a rather changed lab. Security had been significantly increased. Our western entrance and badge checkpoint had been supplemented with a second checkpoint many yards down the street from the original. We now had to go through two checkpoints and were subject to searches at both of them. My husband and I usually ride our bicycles to work. I carry my work clothes in a backpack when I ride. Under the new, increased security I had to have its contents searched at both checkpoints. This double checkpoint system at our western gate continues in operation today but searches of personal items has tapered off significantly. It is still conducted occasionally on a random basis.

We arrived on lab that Monday to find that a number of additional barriers had been erected on the premises to prevent vehicles from driving into our mall area and/or into strategic buildings. Additionally we found that internal streets and parking places next to strategic buildings were blocked off . The additional barriers remain up today but most of the on-lab parking restrictions have been relaxed.

As for what September 11th means for current and future lab business I think that is still hard to quantify. Right after the attacks there were some brain storming activities. Engineers were asked if they had any thoughts about how work we were doing at the lab might help in catching and deterring terrorists. I do not personally know what came of that effort.

My project, Deep Impact, is in what I would call its build and test phase. We have passed our critical design review and are working to construct and test our spacecraft in time for our January 2004 launch window and subsequent rendezvous with the comet, Tempel 1 in July of 2005. We are a Discovery Mission with a set budget of slightly under $300 million. We have an industry partner, Ball Aerospace with whom we collaborate to produce our spacecraft and to fly this mission. We get project funding from NASA. Funding is provided in yearly increments. We have not been and do not expect to be directly impacted by the events of September 11th. small bullet

Anne Elson ’69 is an outer planets/solar probe project software engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Finding hope, moving on
By Joel Stonington '03

The commons at Reed is a really good place to find interesting topics of conversation: the future, the possibility of happiness, why we are here on earth, why there is so much suffering in the world. However, since September 11 our conversations have been darker than normal.

During lunch recently someone said, “24,000 people die daily from starvation, according to the world hunger site, yet only a couple thousand died in the World Trade Center.”

Another responded, “Stalin once said ‘One death is a tragedy, one million deaths is a statistic.’ Which makes sense to me, but every one of those statistics is a horrible, horrible tragedy.”

I have always wanted to believe in Horace Walpole’s statement, “The world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think.” I hope my ability to laugh about difficult things will come with wisdom and education. Since September 11 it seems the world has felt tragic, even for people I consider great thinkers.

Amidst these daily disasters in our books, newspapers, and our own lives, which have seemed to ride the crest of tragedy in the wake of the WTC, there is always the question of how to go on, of what action to take among all the problems we want to solve.

I often feel overwhelmed or even hopeless in the midst of all this. It can be terrifying to look at problems like global warming, terrorism, the imbalance of wealth and resources, environmental degradation—the list seems endless. And yet, as I look around Reed I see that everyone is doing something. For now it is the little things: working with kids, going to rallies, riding bikes to school, confronting relationships with abundance, having fun, laughing, working towards larger-scale change. There is hope in all of us; we must believe in the possibility of change.

A friend who is a philosophy major showed me a book she has been making. She told me it was blank when she came to Reed, and as she encounters the most difficult philosophical questions she writes them down, one question per page.

“Look at this,” she said she pulled out the book. “These are all the questions I’m going to answer.”

Hope is alive in her words. It is in everyone who continues to act amidst tragedy and laughter alike. Hope is simply the will for change, something in all our words and all our actions. A friend of mine once said, “I wonder if it is possible to change the global ideology.”

Sometimes, when I’m feeling ambitious, I say yes, it is possible, although sometimes my sights are a little lower. I want to be a journalist and help people be aware of the world and themselves. I work hard here because I want my life’s work to bring change, even if only in small ways.

So at the lunch table, while our discussions can be dark, bleak, and disheartening, we also talk optimistically of grandiose changes, of stopping the war machine and focusing on peace. We speak of our goals for education, social services, and community, and always of saving the environment so plants and animals can prosper and our grandchildren will be young with wild country to live in and wildernesses will exist where they can find the sublime.

There is optimism amidst all of this. It is us. And that is what will keep us moving on, ceaselessly and hopefully forward. small bullet

Joel Stonington ’03 is a junior English major from Seattle, Washington. His mother wanted to attend Reed, but didn’t because her parents thought it was a “commie school.”


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