America recently observed a couple anniversaries. Last month was the sixth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Last week, Oct. 4, was the 50th anniversary of the Soviet Union's launch of the 184-pound Sputnik satellite.
Both, we've been told endlessly, were earth-shattering events. The attack made us come to grips with the 21st century threat of terrorism and the latter changed our entire public education system to focus more attention on math and science.
Interestingly, recent reports issued by the Pentagon show that not only are we no better protected against terrorism than we were before 9-11, but steps taken since then may well have made us less safe.
According to a story published Sunday in The Plain Dealer, a recent study ranked U.S. 15-year-olds 24th out of 29 industrialized nations on practical math applications. That makes us tied with Latvia. American science skills were on a par with Austria. The results have left many experts wondering why children in Finland, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, even Canada, easily outdistance American children in math and science.
"We need another Sputnik," said the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association.
Similarly, a conservative columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, lamenting the state of our readiness and/or willingness to combat terrorism, said we need another 9-11 to wake us up.
The last thing America needs is another 9-11, and while the Iranians or North Koreans announcing they had colonized Mars would cause government and education officials to sit up and take notice, likely all that would result would be grand plans and a lot of rhetoric.
We already have all the plans we need for both situations. The 9-11 Commission laid out a blueprint for fighting terrorism and No Child Left Behind and other such plans have established benchmarks for success.
While there is certainly something to be said for vision, vision without courage isn't worth a dime. What's needed in America is the fortitude to implement the plans we have. We know what needs to be done, we just lack the political will to do it.
Education and terrorism aren't really taken seriously. If they were, we wouldn't be cutting taxes in the middle of a war, something that's never been done in the history of this country, and we would be providing the manpower and equipment our soldiers need to win. Were we serious about education we would be insisting that kids learn in schools, that teachers are valued as they should be and that discipline is a priority. They don't; they aren't; it's not.
You can rest assured that those who hope to defeat us on the battlefield and in the laboratory are taking these things seriously. We've had our wake up call. It's time to stop hitting the snooze button and get to work.