It must be my week for finding inspiration in the New York Times.
This time it’s in one of Paul Krugman’s columns from last week in which he takes some pretty substantial whacks at the universal truth among politicians and other “experts” that “education is the key to economic success”.
Krugman offers his long term vision that the US will actually need fewer college trained workers, not more, due more to changes in our society than anything to do with our education system.
But there are things education can’t do. In particular, the notion that putting more kids through college can restore the middle-class society we used to have is wishful thinking. It’s no longer true that having a college degree guarantees that you’ll get a good job, and it’s becoming less true with each passing decade.
So if we want a society of broadly shared prosperity, education isn’t the answer – we’ll have to go about building that society directly. We need to restore the bargaining power that labor has lost over the last 30 years, so that ordinary workers as well as superstars have the power to bargain for good wages. We need to guarantee the essentials, above all health care, to every citizen.
And all that is going to require huge changes in societal attitudes and vision, not increasing student scores on meaningless tests and pushing more of them into college.
From Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times, comes this sad but far too accurate observation.
We are no longer the nation that used to amaze the world with its visionary projects. We have become, instead, a nation whose politicians seem to compete over who can show the least vision, the least concern about the future and the greatest willingness to pander to short-term, narrow-minded selfishness.
That same lack of vision is also on glaring display in most proposals for improving American education.
Paul Krugman is a Nobel-prize winning economist and someone who sees a direct connection between education and the economic success of the US.*
He also says that our national “educational neglect” has led to “a slow-motion erosion of America’s relative position” in the world.
And the current financial mess is only feeding that neglect.
But things are about to get much worse, as the economic crisis – its effects exacerbated by the penny-wise, pound-foolish behavior that passes for “fiscal responsibility” in Washington – deals a severe blow to education across the board.
His focus in this column is on college-level education but much of what Krugman says also applies to K12.
There’s no mystery about what’s going on: education is mainly the responsibility of state and local governments, which are in dire fiscal straits. Adequate federal aid could have made a big difference. But while some aid has been provided, it has made up only a fraction of the shortfall.
As a result, education is on the chopping block. And laid-off teachers are only part of the story. Even more important is the way that we’re shutting off opportunities.
Certainly money is never the sole solution to all our problems, educational or otherwise.
However, an excellent public education system, one that provides an excellent foundation for every child no matter where they live, cannot be done on the cheap.
The longer we wait to provide adequate funding for that system, the larger the number of children who are shut off from those opportunities.
* BTW, I’m one who believes the economic connection is NOT the most important reason for creating a strong public education system.