The Proper Use of the Sputnik as a Historical Allusion

Not to be a nudnik, but when it comes to meaningful Sputnik references, Chester Finn Jr. does a better job than President Obama and Seretary of Energy Steven Chu. From The New York Times, “Shanghai Test Scores Stun Educators“:

With China’s debut in international standardized testing, students in Shanghai have surprised experts by outscoring their counterparts in dozens of other countries, in reading as well as in math and science, according to the results of a respected exam. …

“Wow, I’m kind of stunned, I’m thinking Sputnik,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., who served in President Ronald Reagan’s Department of Education, referring to the groundbreaking Soviet satellite launching. Mr. Finn, who has visited schools all across China, said, “I’ve seen how relentless the Chinese are at accomplishing goals, and if they can do this in Shanghai in 2009, they can do it in 10 cities in 2019, and in 50 cities by 2029.”

Finn is suggesting that a discrete news event — the release of Chinese test scores — should shock the United States into action, specifically on education.

President Obama and Secretary Chu’s recent evocations of Sputnik were more along the lines of, “We face big challenges from overseas, so we better wise up.”

In all cases, their general points are correct.

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