Matamoros, Mexico: Washington, D.C.:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Funding Knowledge

Why can't the U.S. get its act together? Sure, it's a bit of a hyperbolic statement, but I think we really have quite a few things we need to work on.

Now, I'm no economist, and I truly despise anything having to do with math, numbers, and money whatsoever. (Any guesses as to which career track I'll probably never work within in the Foreign Service?) But last weekend I read a short column by Zachary Karabell in the Jan. 10th issue of Time that made me wish the U.S. economy would wake up and smell the garbage out there.

Ironically, the Karabell has a rather positive view of the economy, one which I believe is probably quite deserved. The media does tend to blow things everything out of proportion these days, which then causes this general panic amongst the population, for example, to worry, Oh my GOD. Glenn Beck says our country is becoming a communist/socialist/fascist/everything-bad-you-can-imagine nation and that we're going to collapse like the Roman Empire did. What EVER should we do?! Save us, Glenn!!!!!, when, in reality, if people would just open their eyes and care to look around for a few minutes, they might find that things are going to be just fine. And I think that's what Karabell does in his column.

Moving past that nationwide groupthink, the author closes up his piece with two brilliant paragraphs that ring quite true:
But it's also important to note that this bout of self-flagellation is taking place against a different global backdrop, one that sees countries from China to Brazil blazing their own trails while the U.S. seemingly plods along. It's been shown that people assess themselves in relative terms, by how much they have compared with their neighbors more than by how much they have. Today, Americans have a surfeit, but relative to the world as a whole, the slice is shrinking.
Those new economic powerhouses are spending, too, but in smarter ways. They're pouring money into education and infrastructure. That in turn has led to increased personal consumption born of the fruits of those efforts. The contrast with the U.S., which struggles with political gridlock that makes it difficult to pass similar measures, is striking. That, more than the balance on our credit cards, should fuel legitimate American pessimism. [TIME]
I think he's got it dead on, here. Why does the U.S. spend such an embarrassingly small amount of money on education? When will we wake up and realize that education is perhaps the most important part of a well-functioning society, yet we're essentially tossing chump change at schools and hoping they make do? In my opinion, education is the key to solving most of our country's problems.

Instead of throwing untold quantities of cash at a problem, why don't we instead throw money at schools to train up young people who can fix the problem themselves with better knowledge, technology, and experience? Our nation might very well be experiencing a veritable brain drain, but not because the educated are abandoning the U.S. (as they've been doing in Africa for decades, for example). No, instead, we're causing our own brain drain because we're giving up on education.

So how do we fix the problem? Pshh, don't ask me. I have no idea, because that isn't my particular field. But I do have a few guesses: find, train, and pay higher quality teachers higher quality salaries, to start with. Give schools more money to invest in technology, the arts, and physical activities (because what good are smart people if they die early due to poor health/fitness?). Stop teaching for standardized tests and start teaching for students to learn something they are going to retain and apply. Why is the average median salary for teachers in some states as low as $27-30k (let's not focus too much on cost of living at this point)? Why do people view a profession in teaching to be less valuable or less respectable than that of a lawyer or doctor? Doesn't everyone hate lawyers, anyway?

I suppose this turned into more of a rant than a reflection on Karabell's piece, but it does raise some important questions. To all of my teacher friends out there: keep up the good work. Your jobs are important, and we should value you more than we do right now.

Until next time...peace.

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