Is This Our Sputnik?

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Check Out the New Blog In 1957, Russia’s launch of the Sputnik satellite was a shock to the American psyche.

To that point, we were sure that the U.S. held a technological edge over the rest of the world. Congresswoman Luce described Sputnik’s beeps asan intercontinental outer-space raspberry to a decade of American pretensions that the American way of life was a gilt-edged guarantee of our national superiority.” Our response to this shock resulted in a dedication to improving education and investing in technological research. A little more than a decade later, Americans were walking on the moon. The U.S. had firmly established itself as the global leader in science and technology.

For the last 50 years, the U.S. has been the world’s technological and economic giant. However, our edge has been eroding. India, China, and many European and Asian countries are quickly closing the “innovation gap” that has benefited the United States for the past half-century. Craig Barrett, the chairman of Intel Corporation, stated in 2005, “It’s a creeping crisis, and it is not something the American psyche responds well to—it’s not a Sputnik shot, it’s not a tsunami. It is rather a slow and steady erosion of our competitive advantage.”

Fareed Zakaria writes that over the past two decades, economies outside of the “industrialized West” have been growing at rates once thought impossible. He terms this not as a decline of the U.S., but a “Rise of the Rest.” When Zakaria wrote this last May, he stated:

“Many look at the vitality of this emerging world and conclude that the United States has had its day. “Globalization is striking back,” Gabor Steingart, an editor at Germany’s leading news magazine, Der Spiegel, writes in a best-selling book. As others prosper, he argues, the United States has lost key industries, its people have stopped saving money, and its government has become increasingly indebted to Asian central banks. The current financial crisis has only given greater force to such fears.”

Over the past few weeks, the American psyche has been shocked again. Is this economic crisis our generation’s Sputnik? Is this a black-eye to a half-century of our pretensions that our way of life was a guarantee to our national superiority? How will we respond?

It isn’t just our financial markets that need help. We need to look in the mirror. Is America prepared for the 21st Century? We need to examine all facets of our society, including education.

Shortly after the Olympics, Robert Compton asked, “What if the U.S. won no medals?” What if we finished in 25th place in the medals count? We would be embarrassed and launch massive “athletic reforms.” So, he continues, why are we not embarrassed that we are 25th in math and science education?

Compton has produced a fascinating documentary (Two Million Minutes) that compares the lives of high school students in the U.S., India, and China. The Two Million Minutes website also includes a shortened version of the proficiency exam that all 10th grade students in India must take in order to pass to 11th grade. Try it…and good luck! If this test is any indication, the vast majority of our high school students won’t measure up.

Check out this news report about the documentary:

Is this the standard that we need to work towards? Should we expect our children to focus on their studies six hours per day…in the summer? Or, perhaps the status quo is ok – we need our students to be well rounded.

What do you think?What should we emphasize in education reform?Remember, our galvanizing goal after Sputnik was to walk on the Moon…and we did it in 12 years.

What should our galvanizing education goal for 2020 be?

by Eric Brunsell
Eric Brunsell’s six word educational philosophy is “learning is social, learning is personal.” He is engaged in exploring multiple facets of personalizing instruction, including formative assessment, student voice in science education, and the use of personal learning networks for professional development.

Dr. Brunsell is an assistant professor of science education at the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh and adjunct faculty in Montana State University’s MS-Science Education and National Teacher Enhancement Network. He has facilitated over 100 workshops and institutes for teachers across the nation. In addition, he edited the volume, Readings in Science Methods, K-8 for the National Science Teachers Association.

Eric is a former high school science teacher and the director of Space Education Initiatives . He received his doctorate in curriculum and instruction (science education) from Montana State University where he was a doctoral fellow in the NSF Center for Learning and Teaching in the West. Eric blogs about education and science at Education Ideation. He also maintains a wiki and Ning social network. Eric lives with his wife, two children and basset hound in Holmen, WI.

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  1. Education Blog — Kate Says says:

    […] on along the way, content is king! Eric Brunsell starts it out with a dynamite first post titled Is This Our Sputnik?. I’d love for you to head on over and read Eric’s post and stay tuned for more great […]

  2. […] Its official… I am a contributing blogger for the Professional Learning Community.  They lead off with my first contribution – Is this our Sputnik? […]

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