In the process of researching where the U.S. ranks internationally in science and math education, I discovered that one of the Democratic presidential candidates (the one who’s governor of a Southwestern state) keeps citing our nation’s current rank as No. 29 (or, on a good day, No. 28) after our having been No. 1 throughout the world.
Apparently neither statistic is true, however, which suggest that it may be Bill Richardson himself who needs a bit of remedial math.
This is not the first time our national educational system has been politicized. Fifty years ago, a global scientific effort called the International Geophysical Year (IGY) encompassed 11 Earth sciences: aurora and airglow, cosmic rays, geomagnetism, gravity, ionospheric physics, longitude and latitude determinations (precision mapping), meteorology, oceanography, seismology and solar activity.
The Soviet Union celebrated IGY by launching the first artificial satellite (Sputnik) one month into the event on Oct. 1, 1957. We countered with the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts and the discovery of mid-ocean submarine ridges, which was an important confirmation of plate tectonics.
Immediately following the successful orbiting of Sputnik, attendant paranoia regarding U.S. loss of the space race converted our collaboration with the country into a major retooling of the nation’s school curricula. The focus would now be on science and mathematics.
It’s impossible to deny a general decline in these areas nationally versus India and a handful of other countries that emphasize science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education on a cultural level. In recent years, Minnesota has been adamant and resolute about creating and maintaining collaboration between the private and public sectors to improve these areas of learning among K-12 students statewide.