[This is the transcript of my regular KVMR commentary that was broadcast on 11 May 2012.]
It’s graduation season during a particularly intense election year while the economy is stuck in the mud, and technological advances still come pouring out the research universities and private industry. Our educational system at all levels puts 4.3 million young people out into what you might think is America’s workforce. A good fraction of these youth have not completed their education – they are either high school dropouts or leave college before earning some recognized certificate of completion.
And when we look at our graduates – those who can boast a high school diploma, an AA degree, or a baccalaureate sheepskin – we discover that they are proudly educated in skills few can understand and employers cannot use. The result is that an alarming fraction of these people cannot qualify for the fewer jobs that this economy is producing. What’s more, they will not qualify for the kinds of jobs that a future job market will demand when the economy finally begins to recover.
Most academics and writers who have studied this alarming shift in skills demographics continue to blame it on what and how our youngsters are taught in their schools. First, teaching has long been devalued by policies which attract the lower tiers of college graduates into the profession. And for years now the curriculum of essential skills has been watered down and in some cases eliminated altogether.
I’m, of course, talking about subjects that motivate and prepare students to take science, technology, engineering, and math, the so-called STEM subjects, in high school and college. For example, the latest and greatest federal program called ‘Race to the Top’ is redefining the top in its Common Core curriculum standards by calling for a delay from the 8th to the 9th grade in starting to teach algebra. That removes 20% of the available math schedule for high schoolers.
Apparently the little darlins are no longer ready to start algebra in the 8th grade because of what they didn’t learn in the previous seven years. And that brings me to what the kids have actually been taught during those years, and will continue to learn until they walk out of school into the chill wind of the real world. Today’s young people belong to something that the psychologists and demographers have labeled the 'Me Generation'.
In the Me Generation the more you conform to the institutionally correct norm, the more you are praised for being something very unique. You know you are an excellent student, and if you have trouble learning something, the fault is not yours. It is because you learn in your own special way, and the system didn’t fulfill your requirements. Therefore special dispensation is due in your particular case. In any event failure for you is not in the cards. And so you go sailing through what is called public education and the university experience, and finally land in the real world.
Bret Stephens of the WSJ recently wrote a letter to this year’s Me Generation which had this memorable passage, “Through exertions that—let's be honest—were probably less than heroic, most of you have spent the last few years getting inflated grades in useless subjects in order to obtain a debased degree. Now you're entering a lousy economy, courtesy of the very president whom you, as freshmen, voted for with such enthusiasm. Please spare us the self-pity about how tough it is to look for a job while living with your parents. They're the ones who spent a fortune on your education only to get you back— return-to-sender, forwarding address unknown.”
My name is Rebane, and I also expand on these and other themes in my Union columns, and on georgerebane.com where this transcript appears. These opinions are not necessarily shared by KVMR. Thank you for listening.