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The Tiger Mother Sputnik Moment for South Carolina

Much has been made of President Obama’s recent call for America to create our own “Sputnik moment” to solve a host of national problems. The ensuing response reminded us of the successful launch of the Soviet satellite, Sputnik, which goaded America into winning the race for space.

Clare Booth Luce, the playwright and conservative politician, commented at that time that Sputnik gave “an intercontinental outer-space raspberry to a decade of American pretensions that the American way of life was a gilt-edged guarantee of our national superiority.” In other words, we had grown content with our mediocrity just when we could ill afford it. Whoever controlled space would control the world – and America had just witnessed our future being blasted by a Soviet rocket.

Every problem requires a catalyst to initiate a solution. Consider the problem of mediocre expectations that most Americans have for their children on almost every level.

A catalyst for discussing this problem comes from the media’s attention in recent weeks to Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother.” In it, the author describes her controversial childrearing techniques that center upon her drive to make her children take advantage of the opportunities afforded them. She draws a distinction between Chinese-style parenting and Western parenting, between demanding excellence from a child versus merely demanding a good try.

Let us accept Ms. Chua’s point that family survival – and by extension, national survival – depends on how we teach our children to succeed. Since most parents partner with some type of educational system, either public or private, to assist them in training their children, we must ask how that system helps parents instill excellence in their children.

If we look at America’s K-12 educational-system international ranking, we find more mediocrity. According to Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores released last December, American students ranked 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math. We were ranked 17th overall. Students from Shanghai came in 1st in all three categories. Of course, defenders of our educational system quickly pointed out that the Chinese are merely good test takers. They missed the fact that life itself is a test.

Maybe Ms. Chau really does have a point. At present, America has the luxury of merely demanding mediocrity from our children, at least until the world passes us by.

Now consider South Carolina’s K-12 educational system. As American students ranked 17th internationally, and South Carolina students have ranked persistently low in their test scores on a national level, what does it take for South Carolina to have a Sputnik moment to address our own mediocre expectations? 

Global competition demands that we take action to reform our K-12 educational system now.

South Carolina now has the opportunity to seriously consider the benefits of a comprehensive school choice plan. The Education Opportunity Act, which was recently introduced in the South Carolina Assembly, establishes a framework for educational innovation through the use of tuition tax credits.

This bill would increase the performance of public schools through competition, open the door for further education reforms, allow corporations and individuals to fund scholarships for low-income students and give parents across South Carolina the opportunity to choose the most appropriate school for their child.

Most importantly, the bill provides a catalyst to open up an honest discussion about the performance of our K-12 system. Our Sputnik moment has presented itself.