I don't actually think that the phrase "Sputnik moment" accurately describes the vision for education that President Obama shared with us in his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.
Yes, there were clear overtones of the space race era, a time when America feared that our nation would be overtaken -- perhaps quite literally -- by a Soviet Union stronger than we were in science and technology. But there's something more going on in the president's challenge.
Pay attention carefully to what he said:
"The future is ours to win."
"If we want to win the future -- if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas -- then we also have to win the race to educate our kids."
"Now it's our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government. That's how our people will prosper. That's how we'll win the future."
No, I think this goes beyond Sputnik. It goes to an even deeper, more paranoid vision of the world as the U.S. vs them. It's more of a "Survivor" moment: "Outwit, Outlast, Outplay." The rest of the world's only reason for existing, as the president describes it, is to be in competition with the U.S. for dominance, jobs, prosperity and even having a future.
It gets worse.
The president wants our children to be the foot soldiers in his war against the rest of the world.
He doesn't talk about wanting to educate children for their own sakes, so that they can build their own future with a strong foundation of knowledge and skills. Instead he talks about wanting to "out-educate" the rest of the world.
We'll show them. We'll "Tiger Mom" those kids so that they have higher test scores than any other students anywhere in the world. And then we win.
It's the competition, stupid
The administration's movement to replace education with competition has been coming on for a while now.
Last year at about this time, Education Secretary Arne Duncan tried to channel Dr. Martin Luther King with this statement: "If Dr. King were here today, he would call on a new generation of leaders to build upon his work by doing the most important thing each of you can do: get an education, learn to think, learn to compete and learn to win." Of course, Dr. King would have never said such thing.
"Race to the Top" is just the most expansive and expensive version of this move to replace education with competition. That's why it just doesn't matter to President Obama and Secretary Duncan that the strategies demanded by RTTT don't work. It only matters that they promote competition.
Ultimately, it's part and parcel of the Enron mindset: Nothing is really worthwhile to them unless it creates more wealth for the already wealthy.
Then, it follows that the best way to fight back, to turn the debate away from competition and back to education, to give our children a fighting chance to get a real education rather than becoming cannon fodder in Obama's war for the future, is to go after the wealth-mongers who are behind corporate school reform. And I've already told you how to do that.