Random Thoughts

Another Sputnik?

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A recent conversation with my wife about NECC, my frustrations with schools and education in general led to this.

Me: I don’t know….I just don’t think it’s going to change.

Wife: Of course it’s not going to change. People don’t change unless they have to or are forced to

Me: I know…and we (the educational community) can’t do either

Wife: It’s gonna take another Sputnik.

Me: Ouch!

Wife: Yeah…but think of it, when was the last time real change was made in education? I mean deep lasting change that affected the way schools were ran and what we taught and how we taught it.

Me. True!

Wife: It’s gonna take another event like that. It’s going to take some other country to do something and make America react before we see changes.

Me: So what do we do in the mean time?

Wife: Wait.


Have I mentioned how smart my wife is…and a school counselor which is another reason she knows about Sputnik

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Your wife is smart and quite the hostess as well.

    I remember Sputnik. I was tested (as were many young children at that time) and at 4years old put in a special school designed to fast track kids who showed intellectual promise. I also remember being in a passion/project-based classroom in the 4th grade. The teacher designed the learning so that we each chose a subject and could pursue our own learning goals in that subject for the school year. I chose science. I remember dissecting lots of things and using the same tools scientists did.

    I know it made a lasting impact on my love for science and exploration.

  2. Yep, Sputnik put the heat on moving math science forward and making sure the best/brightest were found and nurtured. Which, in turn, spurred the onset of Special Ed programs.

    Right now, we’re idling by looking at kids’ weaknesses alone. I think we’re in a shift, due to NCLB, to begin swinging the other way and looking at kids’ strengths again. I’d encourage people to look into gifted education research (not necessarily your local programs).

    Consider reading a bit in “A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students.” There’s a lot in there about how to engage and motivate kids. The gifted arena has been calling these kids “underachievers,” but I think we have a lot more underachievement going on than in just the gifted ranks.

    Secretly I’ve celebrated NCLB when I’ve put my futurist glasses on. We’ll see.

  3. I think that is why we’ve tried to push the “Flat World” … China and India and others are going to get us if we don’t do something now! approach. That was going to hopefully be a Sputnik moment. Instead it just sput tered.

    Although I’ve been seeing more and more about how China has the #1 company (per net worth) in the world right now and other “Here comes China” kind of reports … so maybe that will help some.

    But I’ve said the same thing as you for years … it will take a Sputnik or a “New Deal” panic after an economic collapse, hmmm… maybe we’re headed for that… to get people off the dime.

    • I agree…I think something will happen economically that will make the US take a look at what we are doing and the new skill set that is needed in America (which I think is different then the skill set in other countries like China).

  4. The pressure outside of the system outside to change must be greater than the pressure inside the system to remain the same, isn’t it just simple dynamics?

    Talk of the flat world, singularity and massive change as a result of technology has no traction with most public schools. If we are looking for pressure to change we’re much more likely to find it in fuel costs, do we really have to bus kids and heat schools five days a week?

    Furthermore, we can’t be assured that anything like Sputnik would necessarily result in a change we would like. But there are institutions almost bigger than schools that are dealing with this as well – like the military.


  5. I was just talking with a teacher in our district today about this very same thing. Sometimes, I feel like we’re spinning our wheels!

    One of my target goals this year is to really work with (on) the administrators –both building and district-level, as well as the supt. and school board about their leadership with teachers… or lack thereof… when it comes to digital ANYTHING. I experienced something very similar to what you described in your ‘slow itch’ post, and I’m too impatient for these people to catch up. I know it’s my job to help them along, but it doesn’t feel like they’re willing.

  6. And what about parents? Can parents afford to wait? I would suggest that they can’t. What do they do? I was lucky in that I could afford to send my son to private schools. Well we did do with out frills like vacations and once for a month health insurance but we did it. It worked for our son who is know a great teacher in his own right. But for many people that is not an option. We could lose a generation.

    • I agree we could lose a generation of people. That is why I think adult education and retraining programs are just as important.

  7. Changes in education due to Sputnik were driven by a need for a national defense crisis.

    I think there is a sense of urgency to change education right now. However, unlike Sputnik the crisis isn’t national defense, it is economic.

    I don’t think that education on its own will ever change. It will always need outside social issues to drive the change.

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  10. I agree with your assessment about education. The one book that has given me hope that things in education will change is: _Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Will Learn_ by Clayton Christensen et al (McGraw-Hill, c. 2008). The main point of the book is that we have to create structures outside mainstream education before mainstream education will change. I blogged about the book as I read it (http://robdarrow.wordpress.com).

    And, I should add, that I have followed much of what you have done in Shanghai through your blog postings and, in turn, shared it with school board members and library staff in my school district. I am reminded of the Margaret Mead quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Keep up the great work and I look forward to reading about your future endeavors.

  11. As I’m off on a journey into retirement, I’ve finally found the time to catch up with all the education blogs that are filling cyberspace. A somewhat depressing theme is the sign of frustration with the rate of change in education. I had the opportunity to sit in on one of your presentations a few years ago in Bangkok at the EARCOS conference. At the time I was working on getting my principal and board to ok the purchasing of new computers with wireless broadband capabilities. We were working on many of the same things that presenters were discussing – podcasts, blogs, wikis, websites, video – in an attempt to begin to change our teaching practices and our mindsets about what education is, should be, could be. Two years later after endless presentations, meetings with technical people, discussing what we wanted to do with students, we were exactly where we started. I decided at that time that I needed a change in direction and so I retired.

    I was told that the new computers and the new connectivity would be arriving a few months before I left. Five months later still nothing although, although I’m now enjoying a stress-free life of writing, research, and thinking.

    It’s a long haul, but it’s a good fight and one that needs to be done; if not for ourselves, then for our students and our children. Keep up the good work, Jeff.

  12. Bruce,

    Thanks for the comment. Hate to see good people go into retirement to find the “peace” they’ve been looking for. Not sure how much longer I can keep up the good fight to change schools. But will do it until I wear myself out…which might be sooner then I hope. 🙂

    Enjoy retirement!

  13. This reminds me of an analogy that Scott Klososky made during his keynote last week at the Laptop Institute in Memphis. He drew a parallel with the move by a computer company (Apple) into the music industry when the traditional music industry failed to shift with the new nature of sharing information.

    Could the shift in education come from a similar place? Might the shift come from within our own countries (as opposed to a perceived threat from outside) and motivated by economic and other opportunities exploited by an as yet unidentified party to fill a void left by a rigid and traditional education system?


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