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Jewish World Review Jan. 30, 2001 / 7 Shevat, 5761

Chris Matthews

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Consumer Reports


Cramming for the Exam


http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- WALT DISNEY taught us kids that America would get to space first. Tomorrowland belonged to us. Then, in seventh grade, I heard the word that changed everything: "Sputnik."

That was October 1957. Overnight, we and our parents shared a scared new world in which the Russians were ahead and we, the invincible Americans, were behind. The tortoise had beaten the hare. "Artificial satellites will pave the way for space travel," the Soviet news agency Tass rubbed it in.

As it turned out, the specter of Sputnik was the best thing that happened to us in the Cold War. The word served as a national recess buzzer. It was time to get back to class, time to get serious. Either America produced more top-grade engineers and scientists, or we got beat by the Communists. I was one of the winners.

Thanks to the National Defense Education Act, a direct response to the Sputnik scare, I got to go to a great college on a fat loan that carried a skinny 3 percent interest rate. I didn't have to pay back a dime until after graduation, service in the military, the Peace Corps, whatever. Two generations later, America faces a new education scare.

This time, the shiver of fear running down our backs is not caused by Communists abroad, but by the digital divide here at home. I'm talking about the Grand Canyon of difference between the preteen who masters the Internet and the high school senior who writes and counts like he's never seen eighth grade.

Once again, this country may perform far better cramming for the final exam than it did on the pop quiz. The same Sputnik syndrome that awoke us in time to beat the Russians to the moon has alerted us to the specter looming today in our own neighborhoods.

This past week, President Bush pushed a major education program as his first bill before Congress. He wants lots more federal money for education in exchange for tough new standards for student success.

Serious Democrats have joined him in the mission. While disagreeing with Bush's proposal for private school vouchers as a last resort, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. George Miller, a Democrat from Martinez, both spotted areas of broad agreement with the new president.

Both parties could make history here. For years, a prime Republican ambition was to eliminate the education department. The prime Democratic ambition was to defend the education establishment. Together, education leaders on Capitol Hill can do what their predecessors did four decades ago: pass a test of national character we are right on the eve of flunking.



JWR contributor Chris Matthews is the author of Hardball. and hosts a CNBC show of the same name. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

Up

01/24/01: George W. Corleone?
01/16/01: War and Atonement
01/09/01: A pair of Boy Scouts
01/04/01: Sen. Moynihan's career: 1976-2000
12/27/00: Powell a symbol of opportunity
12/20/00: Armistice
12/01/00: Forget Gush/Bore, Lieberman and Cheney are ones to watch
11/21/00: Dead men voting
11/15/00: U.S. politcal geography: One nation, divisible
11/07/00: A real electoral horror show
10/31/00: The big lie: Every vote counts
10/17/00: Play White House admissions officer
10/11/00: Scandalous lack of awe for the office
10/03/00: Bush-Gore and the ghosts of Kennedy-Nixon
09/26/00: Candidates' night and day sides
09/19/00: Hillary goes legit
09/12/00: AlGore's silent partner
08/23/00: Truth and beauty in Bubba's farewell
08/16/00: The nation's prom king
08/07/00: The good soldier
08/02/00: Welcome to Philadelphia --- we had the first...
07/31/00: Bush-Cheney ticket: A constitutional problem
07/26/00: If Bush is an IPO, Gore is a store
07/24/00: Will being 'better' sink Hillary?
07/19/00: Pre-convention calm?
07/17/00: AlGore is executing a double dose of imitation 07/10/00: Mexicans elect a Bush Republican
07/10/00:Another kind of McCarthyism
07/06/00: How Bubba's teapots clang
07/03/00: AlGore's latest hazard
06/29/00: No echoes in this presidential choice
06/26/00: Death joins the debate
06/21/00: Jerry Brown tells AlGore how to 'wage' campaign
06/19/00: Squishy logic for soft money
06/15/00: Citizen Kane, 113 years later
06/12/00: Kennedy-Nixon redux?
06/07/00: Bush says 'I do' to reality
06/05/00: Clinton's odd silence on his achievements
06/02/00: Pelosi, a voice for human rights
05/30/00: Bubba's escape hatches
05/23/00: Who typifies leadership?
05/19/00: Bubba's legacy involves AIDS
05/16/00: Dubyah's outlook for 'playoffs' remains perilous
05/11/00: Giuliani's travels
05/09/00: A Yale degree, a Bob Jones education
05/03/00: Show of force!
05/01/00: Abortion polls don't reflect reality
04/28/00: Bill Russell and American racism
04/24/00: Vietnam 25 -- The good, bad and ugly
04/19/00: Nader's threat to Gore in California
04/17/00: Berkeley politician visits with Elian's father
04/14/00: Clinton and the Castro curse
04/11/00: Men who saved Elián from the sea
04/06/00: Caine should coach politicians
04/03/00: No. 2 spots: Woman-to-woman?
03/29/00: Gray for veep and Gore might coast to victory
03/27/00: The secret life of a CIA wife
03/22/00: 'We're suckers for underdogs'
03/20/00: Bush's California dream vs. reality
03/06/00: Scary Gore vs. hopeful Bush
03/06/00: McCain's appeal to 'Reagan Democrats'
03/01/00: John McCain fits a hero's profile
02/28/00: Grading the American presidents
02/25/00: Clinton remains No. 1 issue
02/23/00: Will Ross Perot aid POW McCain?
02/18/00: McCain faces fury of GOP establishment
02/17/00: Citizen Springer
02/14/00: McCainia and the frisky independents
02/07/00: A prime-time primary for California
02/02/00: Clinton's final campaign: Take the blame
01/31/00: Which GOPer is willing to pay for his positions?
01/27/00: John McCain's gay radar
01/25/00: This time, candidates get 'authenticity' check
01/18/00: AIDS dooms 1 in 4 in tiny Swaziland
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01/10/00: A choice, not an echo
01/06/00: The role of a lifetime
01/03/00: Dangers in Gore's dirty war
12/30/99: Churchill's fighting words saved the century
12/28/99: Candidate Gore's separation anxiety
12/17/99: Catch 22: Leading candidates don't lead
12/17/99: New Democratic leader on the horizon
12/15/99: Is Hillary clueless?
12/08/99: Taking Buchananism to the streets
12/03/99: Why are we so obsessed with 'spin'?
12/01/99: Donald Trump, 'Sinatra of Steel'
11/29/99: Why AlGore will be our next president
11/23/99: After the fall
11/17/99: Our conveniently forgetful president
11/15/99: Next president: Male, WASP, self-selected
11/10/99: Backroom Bill
11/08/99: Please don't feed the 'pander bears'
11/03/99: Battle of the Bubba clones
11/01/99: Pat Buchanan, kamikaze candidate
10/27/99: The year of the woman... voter
10/25/99: The Curse of the Bubba
10/21/99: GOP gives Clinton his finest hour
10/18/99: Clinton's last hurrah
10/13/99: Rough seas for Capt. Ventura
10/11/99: Gore targets Bradley's strength
10/06/99: Bradley's got the right Rx
10/04/99: Buchanan, Churchill and Hitler
09/30/99: Who'll spin political gold in Golden State — Gore or Bradley?
09/27/99: Here's a millennial checklist for candidates
09/22/99: The biography battle
09/20/99: Buchanan's new book is a must-read
09/15/99: Don't rule out Beatty
09/13/99: The man with the sun on his face
09/08/99: W. vs. Jr. on dope and the draft
The FALN: Hillary's Willie Horton
08/26/99: Bill's guilt fuels Hill's race
08/25/99: The seemingly inexhaustible strength of America's free enterprise
08/23/99: GOP candidates are weak also-rans
08/16/99: Bubba on Bubba
08/11/99: Hillary's agonizing attempts to understand
08/09/99: With warm regards, Richard Nixon
08/04/99: Weicker: real third party is on the Left
08/02/99: Dubyah's last hangover
07/27/99: Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh; capitalism is gonna win

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