In 1956, the head of the Atomic Energy Commission, Lewis Strauss, declared that the United States was waging a “Cold War of the Classroom” against the Soviet Union. By the mid-1950s, it was increasingly evident among politicians and national leaders that global supremacy was not simply a matter of military prowess. The United States would also need to train generations of Americans capable of defending and promoting the values of the “free” world. Such sentiments turned the nation's classrooms into a Cold War crucible, forging citizens with the habits, virtues and skills required to successfully confront a range of intellectual, moral, and political challenges.
Scientists played a crucial role in this process: rewriting textbooks, shaping curricula, and developing commercial products. Scientific training was not just a matter of producing more engineers and mathematicians. Science provided a way of thinking about the world promoted as essential to American supremacy and way of life. The material culture of mid-century pedagogy was central to the effort to turn the nation’s classrooms into a Cold War crucible, forging citizens with the habits, virtues, and skills required to successfully confront a range of intellectual, moral, and political challenges.
This exhibition used archival film, photographs, pedagogical materials, laboratory demonstrations, and period textbooks to explore the meaning and nature of the Cold War classroom. “Cold War in the Classroom” transformed the Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments into a mid-century classroom and told the story of an era when science classrooms were indeed a crucial weapon of the Cold War.