The university is shut down while we wait for Hurricane Isaac to put in a serious appearance. So in a rare moment of unexpected ‘down time,’ with the Republican National Convention droning in the background and the Democrats in the dugout waiting their turn at bat next week, I’m ruminating on just how badly our politics frames important issues.
Ideological blather about “big vs. small government,” “regulation vs. free market,” “high vs. low taxes” (and who pays how much of them, of course) obscures the gravity of absolutely critical human capital questions. Notably, what are we doing to prepare the workforce of the future? How and how much are we investing?
Alarmingly, not much. As columnist Charles Blow recently wrote in a New York Times piece (Starving the Future), China and India are blowing us away. While half our kids get no early childhood education, and we bumble along without a national strategy, China is shooting for 70% preschool enrollment less than a decade from now. While chronic health conditions, hunger, and rising poverty are curtailing increasing numbers of American kids’ educational opportunities, China and India are aggressively expanding their kids’ educational horizons, with larger numbers graduating high school and heading to college, regardless of financial means. In 2017, just five years from now, India is expected to be graduating 20 million young people from high school – five times the U.S. output.
Are we serious about competing in the globalized “age of the knowledge worker,” or are we just getting ready to roll over and play dead? Are our politics so bankrupt that we can’t see beyond winning yesterday’s ideological squabble? Instead of investing heavily in education (a seemingly non-partisan strategy, and a matter of genuine national security, if there ever was one), public schools at every level are being painfully de-funded and education jobs cut all over the country. This is a recipe for rapid historical decline, a truly disastrous course. If we don’t arrest it, the U.S. will soon join the ranks of “once great” nations.