Monday, July 21, 2008

You Mean This Competition Thing Works You Say?

This article in the DC Examiner caught my attention on the Metro this morning on the way to work.

In October 1957, the Soviet Union launched the world’s first satellite and called it an achievement “of the new socialist society.” Americans called Sputnik one high-flying reason to polish up the science and math skills of the nation’s youth.

“It got America pretty shook up that the Soviets were winning,” said George DeBoer, a deputy director at D.C.-based American Association for the Advancement of Science and the author of “A History of Ideas in Science Education.”

And even before Sputnik, DeBoer said, concern had been mounting over a perceived “softening” of American education.

So by May 1961, when President John F. Kennedy stood before Congress and called for the United States to win the race to the moon, changes in many math and science classrooms were already under way.

One can sense we're likely on the verge of another collective kick in the pants educationally in the realms of math and science. Already there are rumblings that the Chinese could get to the moon before the United States is able to make its triumphant return because of the bureaucratic nightmare NASA's become. Like it or not, but Americans are nationalistic enough to demand they retake what many would see as the nation's proper role in leading space exploration. This could lead to increases in what is taught in math and in science; and more importantly, how it's taught.

Of course on the other hand, given the utter dominance of the National Education Association (NEA) and its tentacle organizations like WEAC on public education in this country, you wonder if any sort of national educational reforms of the magnitude that took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s is even possible. Back then the NEA helped schools and worked to help children learn, they didn't begin to act like nothing more than a trade union it has morphed into until the mid 1970s.

The NEA's been going ballistic over "No Child Left Behind," for what are in essence, minor reform that demand for some accountability in teaching standards. What's to say what they would use their influence to put an end to something like the efforts this nation needs and requires to get active in another space race.

After all, since when has the National Education Association showcased that competition means anything to them?