Saturday, February 5, 2011

What "Our Sputnik Moment" Really Is Wed, 02/02/2011 - 10:14 — Jared Ball corporate education reform | race to the top | fake history | fake economics |

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A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR editor and columnist Jared A. Ball
Having nothing much to say that will help us in the present, President Obama went back to the future in his State of the Union Address - kind of. Obama spray-painted a disconnected future while harkening back to the days of Cold War hysteria, in order to somehow explain why he won't spend any money on anything but banks and war. "Obama's Sputnik moment means less funding for schools and social programs that directly and indirectly improve a student's experience."

What "Our Sputnik Moment" Really Is
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR editor and columnist Jared A. Ball
"The ascendancy of the U.S. state requires the devolution of African people."
President Obama's reference last week to "our generation's Sputnik moment" should be taken as another cautionary sign.  The phrase itself is, of course, more branding, more euphemism and, therefore, likely to cause more confusion.  So here are seven things to think about when hearing that phrase or considering the future impact of the president's use of it:
  1. Sputnik, the Soviet satellite launched in 1957, the same year Ghana claimed independence under Kwame Nkrumah.  Nkrumah wanted a unified African continent operating under scientific socialism.  He had begun partnerships with other African leaders, including Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, and had offered financial and military assistance to all African liberation struggles.  His efforts were seen by the West as examples of what had to be prevented then and now.  With help from the United States he was deposed and demonized as are all similar ideas of cultural and resource retention and socialist distribution.
  2. Sputnik represented for the United States a loss of power over the world.  And more than just a scientific or technological loss it was seen as a loss in the struggle over ideas or which ideas would rule the world.  The 1950s had already witnessed increased unity among those of the so-called "Third World" and the evolution of the civil rights movement at home.  Even Dr. King had been an invited guest of Nkrumah and both were friends of Shirley Graham DuBois and her husband W.E.B., as well as, Amy Ashwood Garvey, George Padmore and other dissident radicals foolish enough to have problems with Western imperialism.
  3. Of the many responses to Sputnik's launch and other shifting political tides, the United States and its "major philanthropic foundations" began to establish African Studies programs within its university system. These programs were of necessity ethnocentric and designed to support the expanding political needs of the state in the period following the Second World War.  Sputnik's launch increased the pressure felt by the economic and political elite of this country to develop greater knowledge of and influence over the African continent to protect its own imperial interests.
"Obama's Race to the Top program actually means an even further "narrowed curriculum."
  1. Sputnik's launch also inspired the United States to reinvest in a system of education itself based in the racist science of eugenics.  As early as the 1920s it had already been established that lower forms of humanity, Black, Brown and poor people, could be tested out and tracked into "separate and unequal education courses."  This also further institutionalized a process of inhibiting creativity, freedom of thought and critical thinking among the rest of those in schools so as to prepare more and more for the functionalist practice of cold calculation and mass production.  No deep thought was or is necessary.
  2. In 1983 the administration of Ronald Reagan produced their report, A Nation in Crisis which argued precisely Obama's point from a week ago.  Test scores had decreased dramatically in the years since Sputnik launched, the report explained, and education was blamed then just as Obama blames it now.  And in each case the solution offered was increased government and corporate regulation through more standardized testing absent any input from educators.
  3. Obama's Sputnik moment means less funding for schools and social programs that directly and indirectly improve a student's experience and, therefore, the likelihood they will do well.  It means a hyper version of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind.  Obama's Race to the Top program actually means an even further "narrowed curriculum" meaning that more will learn even less in an attempt to inflate test scores that, under the Obama plan, are even more so wedded to funding.
  4. The phrase, "our Sputnik moment," is about waking the country up to its slipping grip of power over the world. But, as has always been the case for Black America, words like "our," "us" and "we" must be heard cynically. An ascendance of the United States suggests nothing of an ascendance of Black people.  Indeed, quite the opposite.  As has always been the case, and is always the case, wherever that case may be, the ascendancy of the state requires the devolution of African people.
I'm Jared Ball for Black Agenda Radio, suggesting that we all see past the brand to see just what "our Sputnik moment" really is! Online check us out at
Dr. Jared A. Ball can be reached via email at: