Re: U.S Education System: Call 911 Emergency
These are really thoughtful questions. The reality is that we have been slipping into mediocrity as a nation for many years -- like boiling a frog in a pot that starts out cool and slowly turning up the heat.
Large companies like IBM have been spending billions each year in employee education -- primarily new employee education -- because people show up without sufficient math skills and "information handling aptitude" to be productive.
What is really happening with the advance of technology is that productivity gains are built into tools by a small minority of engineers and mathematicians and scientists, and most of the population has been "dummied down," as Education Secretary Duncan says. Yes, 80% of new jobs will be math and science oriented, but there will be "fewer jobs."
Think about it. Take automobiles for example. Mechanics don't diagnose what is wrong. They connect the car to a computer scanner that checks all the processors to tell them what is wrong. Then they do what a trained monkey can do -- replace the part that the computer tells them to. That is why the warranties for new cars include all scheduled maintenance these days. There is less labor involved -- fewer mechanics, and only machine readers and monkeys to replace parts. The reality is that the computers do a really good job of maintaining peak performance, so mostly, the scheduled maintenance is printing a report to say everything is still ok.
The president doesn't need to change his priorities. He needs to stay focused on economic growth as the first priority. Education is a close second place, but there are still 5 applicants for every new job.
1. Yes, education needs to be reformed -- and now -- or we will continue to import talent to do the really high end jobs. Most of the jobs that are outsourced are low end jobs -- manufacturing, and agriculture, and raw material production.
2. Only nerds think it is cool to do math. Think Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg -- billionaires. The rest of us need to learn math because it is a survival skill. Before electronic calculators and computers, large rooms were filled with people who thought it was cool to do math -- accountants and bookkeepers, bank tellers, logistics clerks, production schedulers, purchasing agents, and we had to do their own math to reconcile our checking accounts. I used to take pride in doing math in my head while balancing my checkbook. Those jobs are boring and repetitive, and require fewer people now. Computers do the grunt work faster and cheaper, never show up late, don't call in sick, and almost never make mistakes.
The rest of us need math to figure out if we are getting scammed on our mortgage, or plan for retirement, select the best health care plan, or invest for our children's education. We need math to survive and avoid getting ripped off. Algebra is the foundational skill to use a spreadsheet, or to analyze business results if we want to become entrepreneurs. When folks figure out that these are life or death skills, they will be motivated to learn again.
The African American education problem is uniquely challenging. There are several examples of high achievement islands among the deserts of hopelessness. What is happening is a triage approach. Some get exceptional treatment and excel, others are simply pushed through the system, and too many simply drop out.
We are facing a generational decline that accelerated after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, and the civil rights legislation of the 60s -- just the opposite of what was supposed to happen. We are now facing a "new normal" of single moms who are dropouts and cannot provide a lot of help to their children while dealing with uneducated absentee or imprisoned fathers. So, the triage approach will save only a few -- like Urban Prep in Chicago, or the Harlem Children's Zone in New York. It will be difficult to turn around a whole generation. We are arriving at a "telented tenth" by default. The few that we save must give back to those who were not lucky enough to win the education lottery.
Sadly, there is no community-wide solution that will provide instant quality education for most of those who are left behind. That is because the achievement gap does not just exist with the children. It extends to their parents and grandparents. So if they arrive at kindergarten behind, they are farther behind by 4th grade, discouraged by 8th grade, and dropouts at 10th grade. Two or more generations of this cycle, and the community doesn't have the resources to save itself.
All of us have "disadvantaged cousins" who are negatively impacted by this cycle of decline. It we don't invest our own "sweat equity" in improving the community and the education system that is harming our own relatives, why do we expect others to come and save our children? If we don't, a friend recently reminded me that Jesus said, "The poor will be with us always."
I ask, Why does it have to be Black folks?