Our work force is falling further and further behind in the global race!
by Charlie Leck
I'm not a fan of David Brooks, the columnist for the New York Times. He's just not very consistent in his writing and I sometime wonder if he remembers where he was a few days ago. Nevertheless, in his column of 15 February 2008, he wrote something that makes sense.
"In the 19th century, industrialization swept the world. Many European nations expanded their welfare states but kept their education systems exclusive. The U.S. tried the opposite approach. American leaders expanded education and created the highest quality work force on the planet.
"That quality work force was the single biggest reason the U.S. emerged as the economic superpower of the 20th century. Generation after generation, American workers were better educated, more industrious and more innovative than the ones that came before.
"That progress stopped about 30 years ago. The percentage of young Americans completing college has been stagnant for a generation. As well-educated boomers retire over the next decades, the quality of the American work force is likely to decline."
Brooks is right-on about this! He recommends that the neo-conservatives grab this as their theme for the coming election, advising that the Republicans will catch the Democrats flat-footed on the issue.
Where has Mr. Brooks been? Recall my doubt about him knowing where he was a few days ago! Barack Obama has been talking about this problem for months. This has been a liberal issue for years. The problem has been that Republicans don't want to spend the money to rejuvenate the American educational system. It needs a top to bottom, complete overhaul. That will cost money. It will mean taxes and it will mean taking away those obscene tax cuts that the wealthiest Americans were given by George Bush and his cronies in Congress.
You want evidence that Americans are now dumber than dumb? Go to You Tube and watch this clip of Kelly Pickler (American Idol) appearing on "Are you Smarter than a 5th Grader?" Well, my goodness! Enough said!
We don't really need to build a case to convince anyone that the American educational system needs a drastic revision. How about a President who will put real, professional, creative and top-notch educators at the top of the Department of Education? This is one department with which we can't play politics. Not that Margaret Spellings, the current Secretary, isn't a qualified person, because she is. She gotten herself handcuffed, however. She's handcuffed by her own personal conservative stance on taxes and spending. She's also handcuffed by a President who won't ask Congress to give her the tools she needs.
If David Brooks thinks this could be the watershed issue for the Republican Party, he must be daffy. The ideas you outline in your column, Mr. Brooks, will take some pretty handsome spending. Listen to John McCain on spending these days! The conservatives are going bankrupt this nation by not spending. American industry and commerce needs a highly educated work force. Don't expect the largest corporations to lobby for spending money in this area. They don't need the American work force. They see that China and India are far outpacing us in teaching the sciences, technology and math to their students. This is a global society now (The World is Flat) and the massive corporations are global and don't depend on America.
America needs to compete. Our workers need to compete against the work forces in China, India, Japan, Korea and a host of other places. Where are we in this education race? Face facts! We are way down at the bottom of all the industrialized, economically significant countries in the world. A continuation of conservative leadership will only drive us further down toward the bottom. They're going to keep pushing No Child Left Behind and they'll keep leaving lots of little kids behind in the American classroom because they don't provide the funds to make their program work. Barack Obama has taken a courageous high-road on education. He says he's going to be open to all possibilities – even vouchers (if he sees evidence that they'll work).
Obama was even willing to talk openly about merit pay in a speech directly to the NEA.
"I think there should be ways for us to work with the NEA, with teachers' unions, to figure out a way to measure success,… I want to work with teachers. I'm not going to do it to you; I'm going to do it with you."
"In the 21st century, countries that out-educate us now will out-compete us tomorrow… The work you do and the difference you make has never been more important to the future of this country."
Obama's approach is going to cost us. You can't get quality without paying for it. The neo-cons mantra about cutting spending and cutting taxes is utter stupidity. We cannot have high quality education at the prices we're devoting to education today. The neo-cons want to keep cutting taxes on people who can well afford to help us pay for better education and these same people are the ones who should help us pay for it. We have to think of this increased spending as an investment for the future. A nation that does not invest in itself is doomed.
Obama made the speech to the National Education Association (NEA), in which he mentioned those things quoted above, in July of last year. A short time after the speech, Alexander Russo, writing in Education Week, declared that Obama had handed the NEA endorsement to Clinton. Well, here's fact Jack! Teacher's Magazine is saying that educators across the nation overwhelmingly support Barack Obama.
Stephen Dubner, writing on my favorite blog, Freakonomics, applauds Obama on education and especially on paying teachers what they're worth.
If you're concerned about education in America and you're still undecided on a presidential candidate, go to the issues section on Obama's web page and check out what he says about education.
Here's a new, hot book to which you might want to pay attention: Jacoby, Susan: The Age of American Reason [Pantheon Books, New York, 2008]
This book paints a vivid and accurate picture of American's declining position in the race for industrial greatness. Jacoby, in particular, points to the fact that our educational system is failing our students. Even though students are spending more and more time in school and advancing further in school, they are not learning at the rate and level of the other advanced nations of the world. The impact this has on our economy and our ability to compete in a global commercial war is enormous.
Read more about the book on Susan Jacoby's web site.
Read the Salon.Com review of Jacoby's book.
Read a New York Times review of Jacoby's book.
Another intriguing book, which I am yet to read, is Against Happiness by Eric Wilson. I'm on the waiting list at the library for this one and I'll let you know about it after I've read it.
CHANGE OF SUBJECT Have any of you seen the documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side? It's supposed to be extraordinary. If you have seen it, tell me about it.
Last weekend we saw the movie, The Great Debaters. We loved it! It's a smashing and wonderful story! We only read good reviews before we went off to a discount theatre to watch it. I certainly was surprised to learn what I did about little James Farmer. You will be, too.