Monday, May 16, 2011

The Wrong Direction

Photo Credit: SpreadTheMagic, Flickr
This morning, at 8:56 AM EDT, NASA launched the Space Shuttle Endeavor into orbit.  In July, NASA will launch Atlantis with four astronauts to the International Space Station.  After that, NASA will retire the shuttle fleet.  They are replacing it with nothing.

Instead, the United States will pay Russia over $50 million per astronaut to carry Americans round trip to the International Space Station.

In the 1950's and 1960's, the United States was faced with an educational crisis.  The Soviet Union had launched Sputnik, and Americans feared that the United States was on the verge of losing its grip as the world's superpower.  That fear led to the National Defense Education Act of 1958.  It led to education programs that were designed to foster a new generation of engineers.  It led to an increased focus on science and math in schools.  Money was earmarked for education, science, and research & development.  NASA was created.

A decade later there were Americans walking on the moon, a scientific achievement that no civilization before or since has been able to achieve.

Today, the United States has another educational crisis. In every study that's been done comparing the United States to other countries in science and math, we finish in the middle of the pack.  I referenced one of them in a blog post last week - the 2007 TIMSS Study.  We have fallen so far that we either cannot develop the technology to send our own astronauts into space, or we have lost the motivation.  Either way, the country that was built on scientific achievement, innovation, and invention is stagnating.

And what is the response?  How are we trying to improve education and technology to overcome this latest crisis? 

By cutting funding to education and firing teachers in record numbers.  By paying other governments to bring our astronauts into space. 

Instead of getting the best mathematicians and engineers to foster a new generation of innovators, a math/engineering teacher is the lowest paid profession out of all mathematics based professions.  You're not going to attract a lot of talent that way.  As a matter of fact, nearly a quarter of this year's Presidential Awards for Excellence in Math and Science will go unclaimed.

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Instead of focusing on innovation, we focus on getting our students to master low-order thinking questions and fill in bubbles on standardized tests that are focused on evaluating teachers, not student learning.  Partially as a result, for the first time in 2009, more patents filed in the US Patent office went to foreigners than Americans

Instead of pooling the collective will of science, industry, government, and education to become great, we are floundering. 

In the 1950's and 1960's we made a commitment to education, innovation, and greatness.  We put a man on the moon in a decade.

If we keep on our current path, where will we be in a decade?


  1. The real question is... how do we fix this?

  2. Is there a fix....or is this symptomatic of our values as a culture? :(

  3. We ask about a fix! Until "WE" the people make our ourselves heard; by educating ourselves on those that are in elected office, by ALL of us voting out those that have kept us stagnating, by ALL of us finding and voting in those that will work for WE THE PEOPLE, we will remain as we are.

    GREAT Article this needs to be posted everywhere possible, if it effects people like it did me hopefully it may spark the to action.