Monday, October 15, 2007

A heretical thought: Was Sputnik the beginning of the end?

October 4th was the 50th anniversary of Sputnik. In 1957 the Soviet Union was the first nation to put a satellite into orbit. This exciting event caught the rest of the world by surprise.

At the time many in the United States claimed there was a need to respond, that the United States needed to prove they could do better and thus sprang the beginning of the effort to put a man on the moon. Another response was greater state and federal government interference in education. Like chicken littles, they said the sky was falling and justified dramatic and increasing changes in education.

Through the late 1800s and in the early 1900s the United States had one of the best education populations in the world. After Sputnik with a couple decades of intense Federal Government programs a study in 1983 reported the dismal state of education in A Nation At Risk. The report had this quote:"If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves."

I believe that all the government intervention in education over the last 50 years has only made things worse. We didn’t allow the change in education; the government implemented the programs which led to a horrible decline.

Homeschooling allows parents to raise the bar and give their children a quality education. They can avoid a mediocre education. Studies have borne out the results. As a group, children who have been homeschooled have a much better education. We can avoid the many problems with public schools.

Homeschooling has many advantages. Parents are able to move at a pace the child can handle. Children are much more engaged in the learning process. Families spend more time together. The list goes on.

Maybe instead of celebrating the launching of Sputnik, we should be mourning the decline of education in America. Just a thought.

Technorati tags: homeschooling, homeschool, home school, home education, parenting, children, education


ChristineMM said...

Hi Henry,
Thanks for submitting this to the Carnival of Homeschooling.

When I think of Sputnik and the effect on education I think of something totally different. In the race to compete scientifically in education, there was federal funding to school libraries. There was a boom in science literature for children, resulting in wonderful books. Sadly, nearly all are out of print, and many are now culled out of public libraries and school libries. The books are superior to today's newly published books in my opinion. I am lucky to own some which are library discards, found at library sales, used book shops and on PaperBackSwap. And now my homeschooled children are benefitting from that space race.

Janine Cate said...

Do you have a list of older book that you like? I love the older books as well and like pointers to good resources.

Anonymous said...


Janine Cate said...

Thanks. Fixed it. I hate it when that happens. : )

Unknown said...

I love older books, too...but older science books are a bit of a difficult thing to deal with. So much of the science is now outdated, and the books are inaccurate.

Maybe we should use them as models for writing our own kids' science books!

Of course, this is no worse than most public school K-6 textbooks, which feature an average of one scientific blooper per page....

(See for more info.)

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

You know, Sputnik had a completely different result for me. By second grade (1967 - 68), we had these wonderful new textbooks in our classrooms, a series called Concepts in Science. They were well written with lots of good, workable hands-on experiments. All told, these kinds of texts placed a great deal of emphasis on how conclusions can be drawn from experimentation, which is the basis of the scientific method.

As a college student, I received National Defense Student Loans, which were forgiven because I studied science, worked in science and then taught science. (Without those forgiven loans, I would not have been able to attend college. Of course, my age cohert was the last one to receive such benefits).

But much had changed in science education by the time I taught. The textbooks were watered-down compared to those I studied at the same age. The reading level was lower and certain words that describe dominant paradigms in their fields had become unmentionable. Many of my students--I taught high school science (Physics, Chemistry and Biology) for 8 years in the '90's --had never played with 'real' stuff, had never helped their parents with sewing or repair work, and simple concepts like how to measure and what measurements mean were outside their experience. Measurement is the basis of the experimental nature of science, after all!

I think there is much we can blame for some of the lacks in our current science education curricula in the public schools other than Sputnik.

At the same time, I do agree that homeschooling can remedy some of those lacks. Spending time with knowledgable adults manipulating real objects in the real world--measuring, using tools, thinking about the physical world--all of those things make science on the basic level more comprehensible to our kids.