"We will bury you," Nikita Khrushchev famously threatened the United States in the late 1950s. His cockiness, and the concern of many liberals that he might be right, stemmed in part from the Soviet Union's supposed lead in science and technology as epitomized by their launch of Sputnik, 50 years ago last week. But news stories about the anniversary took insufficient note of who ended up getting buried -- first Khrushchev himself, then the Evil Empire, then its Marxist-Leninist totalitarian ideology. The cause of death for the latter two included not only democratic capitalism's inherent superiority in political governance, economic productivity, and moral vitality, but also the decisive advantage of a free society over a slave society in education, research, and innovation.
A Denver Post wire story on Oct. 5 reported: "Goose-stepping guards and medal-bedecked space veterans laid flowers at the tomb of the father of the Soviet space program, Sergei Korolyov, at the foot of the Kremlin wall." Wrong tomb; the wreath should have been laid on the grave of world communism and its vaunted historical inevitability -- except that the grave is unmarked and the death unmourned.
A local piece in the Rocky was headed, "Coloradans recount Sputnik's impact on science, classrooms." Quotes from three scientists and science educators who were in school back in 1957 made it sound as though gravity and the heliocentric theory had barely been discovered before the Russian launch embarrassed big government into turning things around, leading to the great things our schools and their graduates have begun accomplishing in latter years.
Nice try by the revisionists, but the sad fact is that the union-dominated, money-corrupted US education system at all levels today is turning out poorer-prepared young people -- in engineering, math, science, and technology particularly -- and far fewer entrants to such careers, than either the America of Ike's day or our leading competitor nations of today. It would appear that the US military and space innovation which loomed so large in Reagan's winning of the Cold War twenty years ago, and the info-tech revolution which has kept our economy booming ever since, occurred in spite of, not because of, all those ballyhooed science-education programs after Sputnik.
Meanwhile, as we also read in last week's papers, Democrats running the state legislature continue stiff-arming sensible proposals (inconveniently offered by Republicans) to toughen Colorado's math and science requirements for high-school graduation. And you gotta love their rationale for keeping ours among the five(!) states with few or no such requirements:
Committee chairman Rep. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, said he is still opposed to "making students into widgets."
"Where is the opportunity for students to experiment and grow their multiple talents with a day that is going to be so regimented?" he asked.
Colorado should focus on making students well-rounded, creative and able to use the right sides of their brains to solve problems, said Merrifield, a former music teacher.
But don't worry, be happy -- with Maestro Mike leading the band, at least we can sing, dance, and fiddle our way down the slope of international mediocrity.