In John F. Kennedy and the Race to the Moon (2010), John M. Logsdon has shown us how the Kennedy Administration used the Apollo 11 program as a weapon in the diplomatic arsenal of foreign policy. Documenting skillful planning and focused willpower, Logdson illustrates Kennedy’s plan to outmaneuver the USSR and land the first man on the moon. Though not the subject of his book, the extensions of Logsdon’s key arguments are also relevant to several unlikely assumptions about technology and its relationship to race and policy.
- Technological development does not exist outside of the human element. Technological innovation is in itself a material document of the dynamics of power. As Logsdon illustrates here between and within nation-states but these interaction can also be interracial and crosscultural. Unconvinced? Consider Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.
- The most effective policy is often designed with a clear adversary in mind. The Cold War laser-like focus on the Soviets provided the basis not only for Apollo 11 but also for reconfiguration of public education (Sputnik), expansion of nuclear arsenal and defense-spending (Reagan). Unfortunately, attempts to address racial inequality using such clearly defined and rigorously applied policy measures have never been attempted. Technology policy worked effectively against the Soviets because they were ‘the other.’ Developing a new domestic race policy with a technological education component will likely not be as effective because it lacks these characteristics. The unique relationship blacks have to and within the United States relegates them to a policy limbo.
- Technology develops and operates within a cultural discourse and its aspirations often reflect and affirm prevailing social norms, hierarchies, and ideals. In Kennedy’s case this was a particular vision of Western democrary and military supremacy. If we were to consider this in the context of STEM education policy today we would see an implicit affirmation that a technologist’s primary concerns should be market-driven and not tied to addressing social inequalities.
What can we draw from these observations? It will be easier to colonize the moon using cold fusion in partnership with Russia and Ukraine than to improve failing schools in Detroit, Atlanta, and Chicago.