Bookmark and Share

The knife at our throat

Our contradictions are a knife held at our collective throat.

Take for example the current rage against government spending: It is out of control; the deficit is huge; our debt will crush us and, if we do not crumble in its wake, surely our children and grandchildren will.

At the same time: Don’t touch my Social Security. Don’t mess with my Medicare. And, for sure, don’t tax me to alleviate the problems.

Most politicians condemn huge debt, too much spending, and yet we find many of them approving massive funding for a war that has gone on for nearly a decade and that shows little sign of abating — funding unsupported by a war tax. Billions out … nothing in.

Another contradiction hits close to home, and it concerns education: K-12 and higher.

Those exhibiting the contradiction trumpet slogans touting our nation as the “best” and “Number One,” as the world leader. Where there were once grounds for making these assertions, the claims were based on realities such as a relatively free market that encouraged innovation and risk; on the willingness to confront a challenge; and on the possession of the knowledge and skills needed to discern and reach a goal.

Where were these qualities nurtured and developed? In the home and the workplace, to some extent. But, surely, in our public education system..

Now, that system has fallen on difficult times. One needs only to read of the travails of our local school district to know this.

More and more information is coming to light concerning the dismal state of the education system in the U.S. We attempt to craft sweeping change at the national and state level, and end up with political blather that produces unfunded mandates and bureaucratic nightmares that lead to little improvement. In the end, none produce the funding needed to allow real changes to happen — changes like the radical restructuring of the education process, the acquisition of new resources, the dismissal of poor teachers and the employment of great ones, to name a few.

And it is the country’s future, its greatness that will suffer.

According to an article in the New York Times written by Tamar Lewin, the College Board has warned that the education gap between the U.S. and other developed countries is widening — with the U.S. on the wrong side of that gap.

Where the U.S. once led the world in the number of citizens 25-30 with college degrees, it is now 12th in a list of 34 developed nations — with Canada leading that list. Our neighbors to the north see 56 percent of young people earn an associate’s degree or better. Here, the rate is 40 percent.

Lewin reports that nearly 70 percent of kids who graduate from high school in the U.S. enroll in colleges and universities, but as few as 57 percent leave with a B.A. within six years. Less than 25 percent enrolled in a community college earn an associate’s degree in three years time.

Many colleges and universities have created remedial programs to bring newly-graduated high school students up to speed for college work.

The problem extends from preschool through the undergraduate years in college.

To be “great,” we must fix the problem, fast. And we must begin by adequately funding K-12 education.

Many of those who toot the loudest about our greatness are the very same who are indignant when it is suggested we spend more on K-12 education. When school systems take the kind of budget hit ours did for the upcoming year, and will likely take for the year after, how can we improve the situation? As long as we are content to thump our chests while refusing to pony up, we will watch our status slide, and we will condemn a tragic number of Americans to lives as uninventive wage slaves in a service economy. “Great” will belong to someone else.

Karl Isberg