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May 16, 2008

Compromised Competitiveness (Guest Post)

America's claim to being "The Most Powerful Nation on Earth" may soon be an empty boast, if not an immature chest thumping exercise. The genius and highly motivated energy of its workforce that propelled its industries to global dominance after World War II, is in a despondent state of decay and disrepair.The replacements for its retiring work force are less knowledgeable and less educated, less skilled and demotivated, disinclined to learn and prone to shortcuts, weak in science and math, and possess poor reading proficiency. The failure of its Educational Institutions and systems has compromised America's once vaunted advantage and competitiveness.

In an increasingly demanding and competitive global economy that requires knowledge acquisition and information processing, such traits are anathema to success. And, where technology develops at a fast pace, the inability to cope, adapt, and use its benefits to create cutting edge advantages is critical to sustaining a lead in the global marketplace. The downward spiral in education has been going on for 40 years. The Reagan Administration documented the deterioration of public education in 1984 (A Nation At Risk), and crafted a 25 year plan to arrest it. Billions were allocated for the project, and at the end of its term, what surfaced was not only further decline but also fraud committed by school authorities to pad up the percentages of high school graduates. This is what the students obtained from the institutions of learning. Practically every state cheated to meet the legal requirements of rising academic proficiency.

Several research studies and recent surveys have attempted to unravel the cause, from teaching methods and skills, inadequate teachers, low pay, safety and security, invasive digital media, preference for visual feeding rather than reading printed material to discern concepts, among others. But it is the values of getting a good education that seems to be missing from the students, values that have been obliterated by too much sense of entitlement without the corresponding effort, sense of duty and responsibility. The youth, with their keen sense of spotting inconsistencies, if not hypocrisy, are acute readers of the social signals that radiate from the society which they belong to and will struggle to survive in. These signals built their perceptions.

They see that making a fortune is the most important basis of respect, regardless of how it was made. They know youth is marketable and would want to use it while they can to make a career in music, film, modeling, advertising, or any other shortcut that would lead to wealth in a short span - without the need for education nor schooling. They scoff at hard work, in school or elsewhere, and are focused on instant gratification. Nobility and patriotism, if ever considered, are secondary to wealth and fame. The framers of the constitution and creators of the Bill of Rights owned slaves; native Americans were pushed by droves of immigrants and were practically wiped out in a "pacification campaign"; America stands for Democracy but supported despots and dictators; these are some inconsistencies that are opposed to the values taught in the academe.

Furthermore, parents have given them up to the schools to be taught values and cared for, which the schools were ill-equipped to handle; the schools had been used to commit fraud to make city officials look good, and abandoned actual improvement mandated; the federal government had provided funds but abandoned its duty to provide safeguards in the use of funds for the intended purposes and results. Has America given up on the public schools?

If America has given up on the public school system, it is only because it has given up on the kids, perhaps unconsciously; without realizing that in the process it has given up on the future or is in denial about its bleak consequence. And if the resignation about the future or the denial of its consequence continues, America may be giving up on democracy. There will be no democracy if there are no schools that would mold civic identity and democratic responsibility, it has to come first on America's agenda.

Who would care about the deficit if the future is finished before it begins? What purpose would a defense budget serve if without democracy, no liberties will be left to defend? What truly public issues or public goods would be advanced, if without public education there can be no public? After all passionate arguments have been exhausted and all sectors have exhaled all anxieties about the crisis in education, what America undertakes to address the crisis will determine how serious it is to regain its competitive edge and strengthen its democratic foundations. Or, the world will witness the end of the American Empire.


Patrick Buchanan, Dumbing Down Of America
Susan Jacoby, The Age of American Unreason
Susan Jacoby, The Dumbing of America
John Cochran, Failing Reports on US Schools
Christopher B. Swanson, PhD, Cities in Crisis
Peterson Institute for International Economics, The Accelerating Decline in America's High Skilled Work Force

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