When I was in kindergarten, something happened that profoundly affected education in the entire nation. The Soviet Union launched a little beeping 180-pound aluminum ball called Sputnik into orbit. Kids my age were taken into the backyard, where our daddies pretended to see it in the night sky.
And that freaked America out, though nobody was using those terms quite yet. The Russians seemed to be ahead of us in science!
When we tried to launch a satellite a few weeks later, our missile blew up on the launch pad. We seemed to be technologically behind our mortal enemies! Suddenly, massive federal dollars were available for education.
That was why and how many of us were able to go to college. Within a few years we caught up with and surpassed the Russians in space. With a few decades, the Soviet Union collapsed. Today, our enemies tend to be fanatic guerrilla bands or developing nations that are fiercely anti-intellectual. We may feel threatened, but we don't feel that the Iraqi insurgents are apt to build a super bomb.
And frankly, I wonder if we might all be better off if we thought al-Qaeda was on the verge of inventing a better mousetrap. This nation devoted massive resources to education when we felt we had to, during World War II and the Cold War that followed.
That helped us evolve into the technological and cultural powerhouse we became. Today, we don?t worry about being surpassed, and as a result, we may be losing our edge.
After all, the first principle of capitalism is that competition leads to higher quality. If you are driving an American car and are happy with it, you should thank the Japanese.
Mike Flanagan is exactly right when he says that Michigan students both can, and must, perform at a higher level.
But to ask the schools to meet the new standards without giving them more resources is self-destructive. At the upper-middle-class school where my wife teaches, they've gone from a semester to a trimester system, in order to try to squeeze in more in less time.
The teachers are exhausted, and overstressed. Imagine how they are trying to enforce these standards at schools with less money.
Peter McPherson, the former president of Michigan State, once told me that the key to success is knowing who you serve and what you want to deliver. Our present education funding policy was, frankly, based not on the best needs of our students or society.
Instead, it was designed to produce property tax relief. What Michigan needs to do is figure out what we want and need to achieve in education. Then, we come up with whatever policies are needed to fund it. There was a time when America believed in its future.
If we still do, and if we want a brighter future for our kids, we need to pour whatever resources we need into education.
Otherwise, the fanatics in the desert may win, after all.