Recently PBS put out a figure in a new documentary on education called Where We Stand that said, “the European Union and China put out more engineers than the United States every year.” They went on to talk about how graduation rates from college has leveled off in the United States, while it rises in other countries. The documentary kept repeating over and over again that we now live in a global economy. The documentary raised this question: Can American compete in a global economy?
Let’s think about the facts. The first fact: Farmers and manufacturers are willing to make the same product in other countries for less price. What do Americans expect to happen? Do we expect American citizens to buy more expensive products simply because it is made in America. Are the people who are getting paid to make the food any less better because their veins do not pump American blood? There are some who argue for large tariffs on incoming goods so that Americans will be persuaded to buy American products, but couldn’t the argument be made that a truly global economy will get rid of tariffs and simply let people compete based on conparative advantage?
Fact, number two: Will more education for more Americans really mean more jobs or more job security? If more people enter into the fields of engineering, science and math, won’t the job market be flooded and put more people out of work? If we start producing more and more engineers, soon won’t the market flush out the extra? And if we double our enrollment rates in colleges, who will run the retail stores, the businesses, and the other unskilled labor jobs if everyone is in school? When people begin to “rise above” certain jobs because of educational level, what happens to those jobs? These are all questions that we have to consider. Somebody has to complete the jobs that the “educated” feel they are too good for.
What was most interesting about the documentary was a man from China who had come to English to teach Chinese. He explained that he did not understand why Americans did not work harder. And his question seems to underscore the elephant in the room: we have tests and tests and more tests, but why doesn’t the American child work harder in school? It would appear that if students spent about twice as much time on homework, their grades would be better and their changes of going to college would be better, but why don’t they? Why don’t students work harder?
This is the question that has to be answered before we can make any real reform in education.