Does America have what it takes for a Sputnik moment?

President Obama on Tuesday called the present time “our generation’s Sputnik moment.” But he also noted that the United States ranks ninth in the proportion of young people with college degrees. Today’s Question: Does America have what it takes for a Sputnik moment?

  • John Robertson

    If the rest of the US has an education system like MN, a political football, we are so far behind in math, science, & applied critical thinking that the only moment on our horizon is a sputtering moment.

    If we throw in the other issues confronting the US: infrastructure, corporate structures and practices, will power, racism, investing in our selves, etc. A Sputnik moment is a pipedream hidden over the horizon of societal and cultural reality.

  • Aaron Grote

    Yes, America does. The work and sacrifice it would require can only be drawn out by a leader who campaigned on and was elected on a platform of hard work and sacrifice. A leader who was elected on the implication that his mere election will make things better took away his own ability to call for and receive those sacrifices.

  • Garyf

    It’s more an issue of reforming our education system not just throwing more money at it.

    We just spent $850 BILLION, yes, BILLION, of money we borrowed from China, couldn’t you have included your Sputnik moment as part of that spending orgy.

    I just saw Davis Guggenheim’s (An Inconvenient Truth) “Waiting for Superman” movie about our public school system.

    This is not something we need to throw more money at. It’s about reform, and giving power back to the teachers and not the teachers unions.

  • Steve the Cynic

    Yes, but…………

    Rising to the challenge a “Sputnik moment” would require the nation to pull together around a common cause. The radical libertarianism that seems to be gaining traction on the right wing would undermine any such effort. And the extreme polarization of our politics these days practically guarantees that any good idea for education reform, no matter which side it comes from, will be sabotaged by the other side. So, we do have what it takes, but the chances of us doing it are two: slim and fat.

  • Americans may intrinsically have what it takes to have another Sputnik moment, but there are too many entrenched interests who spend lots of money, power and influence to make sure that our slide toward Neo-feudalism accelerates, or at the very least, does not stop.

  • Steve

    Sadly, no. I think we are too politically divided to make it happen. I am not sure we are personally divided (neighbors are neighbors) but politically, we don’t have the will to compromise, realize that the other side might have a good idea and cobble together a plan to move forward.

    Also, I think the space program had a very goal, singular goal – get to the moon. This is less clear. The role the government plays is less clear – is it reduced regulation or protections or the government helping to fund certain select areas or a combination? As long as those options are so politically charged we have no hope of moving forward as a country.

  • Gary F

    Does your kid have a robotics/lego team at their school?

    If yes, find out how you can help with your time and or money.

    If not, look into it. It’s a great program that helps develop grade school and high school kids to get interested in engineering.

    Autocad design, computer programming of controls, electronics, gears, wheels, chains, pneumatics, cutting drilling, designing, prototypes, marketing, and of course, COMPETITION.

    I help with my son’s team. It’s a great program.

    But the government doesn’t need to do it by spending more borrowed money from China.

    It starts with you.

  • Philip

    I doubt it. We lack a common moral direction, due to our post-modern societal views. When every belief is equal to every other one, then we are all going in separate directions and commonality becomes a thing of the past.

  • Steve

    i think its a good idea if it can more kids interested in math and science, and that if it can produce more engineers that would be good!

  • Brian

    Can the U.S. rise to the challenge of a Sputnik moment? Not anymore.

    That would assume that we are doing everything we can to provide the best education possible to our children and young adults. Alas, that is certainly not the case.

    We have become the United States of Kronos. You remember the Greek god who devoured his young? Well, that’s what our society does.

    We should make higher education accessible for all our young people. Instead the costs of higher education have continually escalated, and an entire industry of lending has developed that exploits our young, who frequently finish college–if they finish–with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. They become initiated to a life of debt. So we rank ninth in the world in the number of college graduates. Surprise! Surprise!

    The countries of Western Europe make higher education accessible. In many of these countries, higher education is virtually free. But those countries are committed to their young.

    We might also think about properly funding our public school system, but we might have to raise taxes on the wealthy and we wouldn’t want to do that. Nor would we want to address the problems of poverty that young children bring to their public school with them because, well, that might entail raising taxes on the wealthy.

    The Republican Party is going to make sure we never properly fund education at any level. We don’t want to punish the rich by increasing taxes. Tch tch. Let’s keep our priorities in order.

    Besides, if we properly funded our public schools, colleges, and universities, we might create a level playing field between all the members of our society, and the Republican Party will never stand for that.

  • James

    With the direction given to NASA by the current POTUS with a reduction in spending…NO.

    The Chinese are out spending and working hard on a lunar landing. The USA is LOSING the race to space. We are liberalizing away from bold daring people into an entitlement food stamp nanny state.


  • Amy

    Not anymore–every report on America I hear points to a general diminishing of all the character qualities that made America great. We don’t want to work, sacrifice, wait, give, or put others first–how will our country do anything worthwhile? Politics has nothing to do with our problems. It’s selfishness and laziness, plain and simple.

  • bsimon

    “Does America have what it takes for a Sputnik moment?”

    not yet. Sputnik & the resulting fear gave Americans a sense of urgency. We don’t have that now. Its not clear what will inspire that.

  • Ben Chorn

    I dont think there’s a unity to create a Sputnik moment for us…

    Are the tools and ideas there? Absolutely. We have the capability to build the next big physics lab, or conduct the next big space mission (man on Mars); but do we want to? No. Too much spending and nothing in it for the average American.

  • Sue de Nim

    The question is based on a false premise. We are not in a “Sputnik moment,” our president’s rhetoric notwithstanding. Sputnik happened suddenly and was a surprise. We’re more like the proverbial frog in the kettle that doesn’t know enough to jump out as it slowly comes to a boil. The troubles in our education system have been growing gradually over decades. We could and did see the decline coming, but because of denial on the one hand and ideological battles over what the “real” problem is and how to solve it on the other, it’s only gotten worse.

  • Joanna

    A recent editorial in the Star Tribune called for making teaching a career that attracted “the best and the brightest” by not further eroding pay for teachers. The outpouring of anti-teacher, anti-intellectual, anti-education commentary that ensued may be particularly virulent because it was in the Strib comments section, but I think it’s fair to say that it does represent one of the major obstacles to a national “Sputnik moment”: there is a a widespread contempt, both locally and nationally, for the educators and education in the U.S. right now that demands simultaneously that teachers fix our social problems AND that they do it while being treated with contempt by the public. Our kids, K-college, are caught in the middle, and are suffering the consequences. You want better education? Start by modeling respect for teachers.

    One way to find a common goal around which to rally education might be to make as a priority the creation of solutions to problems of energy use and sustainability, a goal that will require science education AND creativity. But that would require that we go up against the well-funded lobbyists of big agriculture and big energy corporations. So we need both a common cause AND a new value placed on the common goals of education, one that in the current political stalement will not come within the next two years. That doesn’t mean we can’t work for it to happen as individuals and groups, but don’t expect it from Washington anytime soon.

  • Kevin VC

    Well America is proving its ANTI-geek.

    So no.

    The only reason we charged against and into the space race was fear. NOT understanding that there is benefits or rewards…..

    That concept is beyond many Americans who would much rather loose themselves in sports then think.

    Being a GEEK/NERD/Techie I have seen my entire life the powers that be do not like to be challenged. They foster a sense of competition based off the notion ‘might makes right’ even when it does not.

    Now if our reward system was more in favor of intellect and invention….. then maybe. But those who invent are often prone to be lawyers and patent owners…. so the rewards are redirected to the ‘opportunist’ rather then the credited inventor.

    But in the sense there is fear right now and opportunity, then yes those elements are there.

    And in the sense something needs to be done and realize that the policies of the past president (Bush) are so fail that it still damages our economy…. they yeah we have a chance to rid ourselves of these ideals.

    But those faulty ideals are ingrained in the ideas of unrestricted and unmonitored capitalism with the military protecting their right to exploit…. sorry, those ideals need to go. There is no such thing as profits with out penalties.

    In the sense this is a great challenge and a need to improve I would agree, but maybe used a better reference. What that is I do not know.

  • Ben

    Not from Obama who all but KILLED our Manned Space Program.

    It’s sad that he uses space exploration as a metaphor but doesn’t see it as a challenge / opportunity.

    All cultures grew when they explored. Spanish, Dutch, English, Chinese, USA etc.. and they ALL declined when they stopped.

    The Chinese, Indians and Russians are all going to outer space, beyond low Earth orbit, to reap the rewards of exploration, we should too or we WILL become a ‘has been’ country.


  • Greg D’Avon

    Sputnik, nah . Sputter – yep. Business innovates only to make profits in the things it already does. The next great leap of success requires imaging and acting on a perception of what new things need to be done. china is now the leader in energy development – because they have to be. Coal while abundant – is a major cause of airborn pollution – and the world focus at the olympics pointed it out. Africa is expanding cell phone service and the attendant business mode ( banking via cell phone) that goes with it. Europe is revamping its social engineering to accommodate a highly skilled and mobile workforce. THE USA- the GOP and their task master business are compartmentalizing American creativity and work forces and this after pretty much locking up free capital. something’s gotta break before we have a shot at any kind of movement.

  • Paul- St. Paul

    Sadly, there is little of the “we,” that it would take to have another Sputnik moment. The government saved the auto industry a couple of years ago, and most Americans seemed as if they would have been just fine had “they” gone out of business. Consequences? Bah.As long as it’s all about the almighty dollar and the short-term bottom line, our investments will be too puny to create anything like we saw in the 50’s and 60’s. It’s as much about values as it is about innovation. Our values as a society are, in my opinion, not in synch what it would take for another Sputkik moment. I hope I am wrong.

  • Nathan

    Sure, if the next “Sputnik moment” will be marked by an entertainment device. America seems to excel at inventing things that people like, rather than things that people need.

  • REL

    No, there will be no more “Sputnik moments” for the United States anymore if we are not willing to invest more money in math, science, writing and realistic communications skills – and less in school sports. How many schools spend as much money in clubs such as Math Clubs, Science Clubs and Chess Clubs as they do in their sports teams? How many parents spend more time and money in their childrens sports as they spend in making sure their children science and math and writing education?

    We are now a people of “how can I get the most while doing the least to earn it”? How can I get someone else to do it – so I don’t have to worry about it?- And don’t raise my taxes while doing it for me! We are now a nation of “my political views – my religious beliefs – my heritage – My – My -MY. There is no longer a “ONE NATION”. How can we have any “Sputnik moments” when we as a nation do not want to work together to get that pride back again.

    If our leaders can’t lead by example – we deserve the leaders we elected as they seem to be concerned only with theri own ambitions rather than the betterment of the “Nation”.

  • DCM

    We have the ability to reinvigorate America. What we lack is the collective desire to do so. America’s value system of greed and narcissism seriously handicaps any chance of working toward a common goal.

  • Patrick

    A previous comment said it all. The corporate feudalization since 1960 denies any chance of great moments. The corporate feudal lords battle for power, while peasants invest their dollars in the latest corporate scam.

    Even the space race was a reaction to a perceived crisis of power, proving our lack of innovation and insight then.

    Forty years of businsess school endoctrination has succeeded: a fist full of dollars.

  • lionel

    There is no Sputnik moment!!! When china and russia send man to mars, or if those 2 countries develop some radical, revolutionary energy source, or a revolutionary space propulsion system, when that happens, then America will have it’s 2nd sputnik moment!! America at the rate it is going, will definately lose and we have only ourselves to blame. Question is: when the 2nd sputnik moment arrives, how can america compete or outdo them?

  • DNA

    Only through the legalization of Cannabis/Hemp/Ganja/Marijuana, the world’s most useful and versatile plant.

    Please watch The Union:

    and consider:

    Two of my favorite things are sitting on my front porch smoking a pipe of sweet hemp, and playing my Hohner harmonica. – Abraham Lincoln, U.S. President, from a letter written by Lincoln during his presidency to the head of the Hohner Harmonica Company in Germany

    Prohibition… goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes… A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded. – Abraham Lincoln

    Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere! – George Washington, U.S. President

    The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world. – Carl Sagan

    Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth & protection of the country.

    – Thomas Jefferson, U.S. President

    Some of my finest hours have been spent on the back of my veranda, smoking hemp and observing as far as the eye can see. – Thomas Jefferson, U.S. President

    If the words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” don’t include the right to experiment with your own consciousness, then the Declaration of Independence isn’t worth the hemp it was written on.

    – Terence McKenna

    We shall, by and by, want a world of hemp more for our own consumption. – John Adams, U.S. President

    Why use up the forests which were centuries in the making and the mines which required ages to lay down, if we can get the equivalent of forest and mineral products in the annual growth of the hemp fields?

    – Henry Ford

    Even if one takes every reefer madness allegation of the prohibitionists at face value, marijuana prohibition has done far more harm to far more people than marijuana ever could. – William F. Buckley, Jr

    ‎The anti-marijuana campaign is a cancerous tissue of lies, undermining law enforcement, aggravating the drug problem, depriving the sick of needed help, and suckering well-intentioned conservatives and countless frightened parents. – William F. Buckley, 1983

    Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marihuana in private for personal use… Therefore, I support legislation amending Federal law to eliminate all Federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marihuana. – Jimmy Carter, U.S. President: Message to Congress, August 2, 1977.

    ‎After two years of doctor-and-patient testimony, the D.E.A.s chief administrative law judge, Francis L. Young, ruled that ‘marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substance known to man’. – Nick Jones

    “Herb is the healing of a nation, alcohol is the destruction.” – Bob Marley.

    “I think we consume far more dangerous drugs that are legal: cigarette smoking, nicotine and alcohol. I feel they cause much more devastating effects physically. We need to lift the prohibition on marijuana.” former Surgeon General of the United States, Joycelyn Elders voicing her support for legalization of marijuana

    The criminalization of the world’s most useful and versatile plant, Cannabis/Hemp/Marijuana/Ganja, was Unconstitutional … a crime against humanity and nature. ~ DNA

    ‎”The war may not be quite over but any stigma still left lingering around cannabis consumption today is largely restricted to out of date and increasingly unenforced pieces of legislation. So indelibly stamped on our culture has cannabis become that it must now rank as the most popular and controversial plant on the planet.” – Nick Jones

    The war on drugs has been an utter failure. We need to rethink and decriminalize our nation’s marijuana laws. – Barack Obama, U.S. President