On Economics and Education

In a recent article, JD Hoye (President, National Academy Foundation) stated:

It’s been said before but I’ll say it again. To rebuild this economy, we need workers who have the skills needed to be productive and innovative to lead us back to prosperity. But far too many young people drop out of school before even getting the chance to work. We need a strong education system to build a strong workforce. And it can’t be done alone.”

This statement implies that a major reason our economy is weak is because we haven’t workers with the needed skills.  Let’s take a step back to look at how we created the economic and educational situations we are in.

Though we don’t manufacture much of anything anymore, it is not because we haven’t the people with skills to work in manufacturing.  We don’t manufacture in the U.S. because those in authority of our corporations decided they could increase profits by employing cheap labor in countries other than the U.S.  We don’t manufacture much anymore because those in authority erroneously believe that their only sense of concern should be for the organization’s profit alone, so they chose to maximize profit in the short-term rather than commit to investing in quality for the long-term.  As a result we’ve become the world’s marketplace and are no longer its producer.

Did the financial meltdown happen because we haven’t people with skills to be productive and innovative?  Did we meltdown because there was all this good work available and no one around to carry it out?  No!  It happened because those in authority of our investment banks sought to maximize their (personal) wealth by gaming the system.  Their actions were all about getting self-serving results—the sense of concern stops at their own skin.  One could argue that they were too skilled for our collective own good.

Is our educational system in decline because of an absence of attention to results?  No!  Thanks to NCLB we’ve placed so much attention on results (i.e. test scores, graduation rates) that we’ve turned our schools into training centers; we do a very good job of training people to take the test.  Unfortunately to successfully meet the challenges of life people need to be educated not trained.

Also if the measures teachers and administrators are accountable for are test scores and graduation rate, then it should be no surprise that these are the objectives they work to accomplish. Consequently getting good grades or graduating from high school or even college is no indication that one has actually learned anything of value.  Students feel the pressure as well: cheating is becoming prevalent.

I think it is about time we cease trying to solve our societal problems with the same kind of thinking that created them.  We are simply perpetuating the problem, enabling it to manifest in different ways, but it is still the same problem.  Let’s stop training people for careers and begin educating them for life.  Yes as JD Hoye correctly asserts “we need a strong education system to build a strong workforce” but this doesn’t mean that the purpose of education is economic—that the only reason to attend to the educational system is for its economic value.  The value of learning is not solely for the money it affords.  Learning is far more fundamental and essential to the human condition than that!  We shouldn’t educate people for the sole purpose of providing labor to feed the economic system we must educate to develop human beings.  Why not stop playing the game that is destroying all us?

4 thoughts on “On Economics and Education

  1. Puzzle… If we don’t produce “anything” any more, pray tell me how manufacturing in this country has INCREASED over the recent years? Not only that, but the US still leads the world in manufacturing. See http://investing.curiouscatblog.net/2009/10/13/data-on-the-largest-manufacturing-countries-in-2008/.

    Second, even if we have shipped all our jobs overseas as you suggest, why then have wages and incomes NOT decreased in the US over time? If all the jobs were lost, and none replaced them, there would necessarily be a large surplus of labor which would cause wages to fall. However, inflation-adjusted wages have kept pace with real GDP growth.

    • According to the BLS the number of people in the US employed in manufacturing has shown a steady decline from 19.4M (1979) to 11.9M (2009) while the number in service has steadily increased over the same period 16.0M to 22.5M. OUr manufacturing base is not what it used to be. Correspondingly the income gap between the top 5 % and the remaining 95% has been increasing at an increasing rate over the same period as well. Please see https://forprogressnotgrowth.com/2010/05/06/subverting-progress/

  2. Pingback: Is This the Way We Want to Roll? « For Progress, Not Growth

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