Education and Jobs
How would you like to be graduating from college and looking for a job in today's market? Pretty scary, right? The cost of higher education has skyrocketed and even post high school vocational-school fees are prohibitive and do not guarantee a job. The American Dream was achieved by an education system that became its means to more and better opportunities. That no longer seems to be the case. What are the causes of this situation and what might we do to ameliorate it? There was a time when Waterbury was the Brass Center of the World and thousands were employed in its factories. Then, along came plastics, and brass and copper were no longer relevant. The factories moved west, and then overseas, taking the middle class jobs with them. Time Magazine's (4/22/13) cover story points out that, surprisingly, manufacturing is staging a comeback. "The off-shoring boom…does appear to have largely run its course." Wages and fuel costs in emerging countries are increasing and lessening the gap between us and them. Sounds good, right? Time uses the analogy of a GE battery plant which ships all over the world and has a 200,000 sq. ft factory which requires only "… 370 full-time employees, a mere 210 of them on the factory floor. The plant manager runs the operation…from an IPad, on which he gets a real-time stream of data from wireless sensors embedded in each product rolling off the line." In other words, today's factory is not your old oil-soaked one that allowed people to begin to reach the middle class with good wages and long-time employment. Today's worker is working in an automated factory, 53% have at least some college education and nearly one in ten has a graduate or professional degree. Thomas Friedman, (NYT, 3/30/13) writing about educational values and skills that matter, says, "This is dangerous at a time when there is increasingly no such thing as a high-wage, middle skilled job - the thing that sustained the middle class in the last generation. Now there is only a high-wage, high-skilled job. Every middle-class job today is being pulled up, out or down, or is being buried - made obsolete - faster than ever." So what should be the focus of education reform today? We definitely have got to stop teaching to the test. Quoting Harvard Education specialist, Tony Wagner, in that same article, Friedman writes, "We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need, and facts that they can Google and forget as soon as the test is over. … More than a century ago, we reinvented the one-room school house and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose." Until we learn how to do that effectively, the American Dream may become just that - a dream.