Education IS Important
Student to Professor: “Do I really need to know all this?”
Professor to Student: “Nope. The world will always need fry cooks.”
So we’re in the middle of an economic downturn, and everyone’s thoughts have turned to belt tightening and cutting back on spending. On a personal level, most Americans have begun taking long, hard looks at their lifestyle and finally asking themselves if maybe they might have been living just a tad above their means. Those that took the gamble of trying to live a life entirely based on credit have had the hard lesson of foreclosure and debt collection forced upon them by the very banks that promised an endless and steady supply of that very same credit. The government is, of course, bearing its fair share of blame, first for not controlling the willful excesses of Wall Street, then for apparently rewarding the bad behavior with bailouts of the most egregious offenders. Thanks to the collapse, tax revenues have fallen on both the national and local levels, and with deficits looming, talk has once again turned to bringing the traditional sacrificial lambs back to the chopping block.
It happens every time we face a budget crunch, but this time one of the cuts being bandied about by politicians secure in the comfort of leather lined offices and lifetime guranteed pensions at taxpayer expense, is one set of cuts that needs to be ignored: education.
The threatened cuts to education are disturbing, not only because education doesn’t really consume enough federal dollars to even make a dent in the deficits, but because it is education, and only education, that can lead the people out of the gutters of poverty and into greater prosperity. This in turn leads to higher tax revenues. What the U.S should be doing, is increasing funding to a level where every American citizen is guaranteed at least a collegiate undergrad degree. If this means cutbacks to defense, so be it. If it means regulating education costs such as tuition or textbooks – both outrageously over-priced – so be it. I’ll even go so far as to say that if it takes a tax increase, so be it.
An education is the single most important character trait an individual can possess. Education determines what kind of jobs are available, and at what pay scale. Without access to education, no American worker will ever be able to really rise above their given station in life. Sure there will always be exceptions – the clever lads and ladies that stumble upon something new and novel for the public to consume or experience – but the odds of such discoveries falling into the lap of a poorly educated individual are slight at best. After all, you have to be able to recognize a good thing when you see it, and if someone is not familiar with a given field or area of expertise, the odds are slim to none they’d even notice a novelty if it was dropped in their lap.
Skilled labor is the cornerstone of any economy, just ask any business executive. Companies want to hire the most skilled labor they can get their hands on. Increased use of technology demands a better educated class of worker. Unfortunately, there is a perverse logic at work in the American system, where intelligence is perceived almost as an enemy to a market based economy. Many businesses are acutely aware that an educated consumer is far more likely to take a pass on the ridiculously simplistic advertising that they rely upon to attract and retain customers. An informed customer, they say, is a dangerous customer, and far more likely to abandon a brand due to a perceive slight; “disloyal”, they say. There is an assumption that customer retention should require no effort on their part, that the people should take what is being offered without question or debate. Many businesses have come to feel entitled to their commercial positions, regardless of how badly they may actually be doing things. In their minds, lost sales or lowered market position indicate a failure in marketing strategy, not leadership. As Wall Street has recently demonstrated, and the rise of the Tea Party movement has reinforced, this kind of arrogance has some fairly serious side effects to the concept of public relations.
The public has also become aware that our global reputation is up for consideration as well. Irregardless of the monstrously bad behavior of our recent past administration, the world is slowly waking up to the fact that the balance of power has begun slipping from the tightly clenched fist of the West . The historic dominance America once held in terms of education, ambition, and “gumption” has dwindled to near non-existent levels in recent decades. Whether we’ve rested on our laurels, or grown slothful and lazy is beside the point. To the rest of the world we do not appear to be the superpower we once were. Unless we take immediate steps to arrest the slide to the bottom of the pile, we face the very real possibility of becoming little more than a 300 year footnote to history – a “neat” idea that didn’t exactly work out.
The best way to do this is to re-establish our dominance in the fields of science. Technology was the single greatest conductor to wealth at the end of the last century, and it will remain so for many years to come. Advances in technology will change the very way we think about life, not only how we interact with it. But, to lead technologically, one needs to teach technologically. If we don’t bring our students up to speed, or push them to excel in the sciences and mathematics, we’re doing little more than producing a pool of cheap labor for the countries that do.
It’s time that our leaders in Washington step back from the table of crafting tax cuts for people who never intended to pay in the first place, and return to paying attention to the needs of the men and women who do the actual living, working and dying in this country. The citizens of the United States do not exist to serve the will of the corporations, the corporations and the government exist to serve the will of the people. In this modern era of information overload, the people have begun applying the lessons learned from years of subjugation to bad business behavior to their elected officials as well. “We are watching you,” they say, “And we think it’s time you started looking after our needs for a change.” Education is necessary for our survival as a nation. It is the only path to universal prosperity. It is the best tool we have for restoring, and maintaining, our former leadership of the global economy. Without it, we are little more than slaves to the wealthy, and quite frankly, we could give a damn what the rich want anymore.