The Senate and the Schools
Senator Bridges' proposal to prevent schools from buying Communist-made scientific demonstration equipment with National Defense Education Act Funds is a fine example of the linkage of absurd over-protectionism with misuse of the provisions of the NDEA.
As an attempt to dominate the state schools and destroy their autonomy, the proposed move is a violation of the agreement that state schools would maintain their freedom and independence if they accepted the act--an understanding without which the act would not have passed. It represents the perpetual tendency of some Senators and their confreres to attempt to dominate everything they can get their hands on and should serve as a warning to those who have claimed that the acceptance of Federal funds need not constitute a surrender of freedom.
As a typical example of the provincialism which so often characterizes Senate conservatives, it is a depressing case of their inability to adapt themselves to the year 1959. American-made equipment for teaching science has long been almost unbelievably expensive. Schools which are neither rich, nor equipped with ingenious teachers who can hand-build teaching equipment, are frequently forced by the costs to curtail some of their science teaching, or to do it with inadequate demonstrations.
The Soviet-made devices which precipitated the current controversy are standard throughout most of the Soviet Union, which is one of the reasons for their lower cost. They are also slightly simpler and less flexible than their American counterparts. But the cries of "dumping" and "unfair competition" raised by Bridges, Keating, and Hill are not reflections of the facts of the case, but distortions based on the old American idea that nobody can defeat American free enterprise in free competition.
The traditional argument that American industry should be protected in case there is a war simply does not hold here. The instruments can be produced by companies with little experience in the field, even if some immediate and overwhelming need did develop--an improbable prospect anyway.
That the Senators have attempted to use the National Defense Education Act to control the purchase of state schools is bad enough. That they have done so to promote aims that are patently unnecessary and potentially damaging to American education is considerably worse.