The current survey on thefabricator.com’s homepage asks which issue in the upcoming presidential election is most important to site visitors. It’s no surprise that the economy, including taxes, debt and deficit, and jobs, is the No. 1 concern with 55 percent of the votes.
Of the 13 remaining choices listed, 12 have earned one or more percent. The only choice that hasn’t received a single vote as of this writing is education.
Setting aside the fact that education likely may be among the choices of those who selected the option “several are of equal importance to me” (24 percent), it honestly concerns me that not one person chose it as most important. Have we simply become comfortable with the status of education in the U.S.? (More about this later.) Do we think that unless the others issues are addressed—for example, job creation—education doesn’t matter all that much?
A recent opinion piece in the New York Times had me thinking about education and other issues. The article was forwarded to me by a friend from high school, who, after graduating from our small school in a rural Georgia county, went to the Georgia Institute of Technology and Harvard University and began his own architectural firm in New York, N.Y., where he still lives and works. I’ve known him for more than—well, let’s just leave it at many years—and he has always been an avid learner and thinker, characteristics that he no doubt was born with, but also were nurtured at home and school. Over the years, we’ve had some interesting conversations about former teachers and how much they meant to us. School was an important part of our lives, one that had a major role in helping us achieve what we have.
The article “No More Industrial Revolutions?” discusses the hypothesis put forward by Robert J. Gordon, an economist at Northwestern University, in his National Bureau of Economic Research paper, “Is U.S. Economic Growth Over?” Gordon predicts a dark future of “epochal decline in growth from the U.S. record of the last 150 years.” The greatest innovations, Gordon argues, are behind us, with little prospect for transformative change along the lines of the three previous industrial revolutions.
The article noted: “Over most of human history, in Gordon’s view, the world had minimal economic growth, if it had any at all — and ‘there is no guarantee that growth will continue indefinitely.’ Gordon’s paper suggests instead that ‘the rapid progress made over the past 250 years could well turn out to be a unique episode in human history.’
“The United States faces ‘headwinds’ that could cut annual growth in Gross Domestic Product to as little as 0.2 percent annually, which is one tenth the rate of growth from 1860 to 2007.”
The article, which has an obvious political slant—opining that the Republican agenda is all about protecting its slice of the pie—does make for fascinating reading as other economists offer their opinions about Gordon’s hypothesis.
What jumped out at me was one of the headwinds: “America is losing the competitive advantage it long enjoyed based on the educational achievement of its workforce. Gordon cites O.E.C.D. data showing that out of 37 countries surveyed, the United States recently ranked 21st in reading, 31st in math, and 34th in science. Higher education cost inflation, Gordon adds, ‘leads to mounting student debt, which is increasingly distorting career choices and deterring low-income people from going to college at all.’”
We don’t need an economist to tell us that education is important. Ask any manufacturer trying to recruit qualified help. Improving our education system is vital to our future’s wellbeing.
Before you vote, consider what President Obama and Governor Romney have to say on the issue of education, but take it with a grain of salt. Talking is easy; making anything happen in Washington seems to be next to impossible. I feel confident in saying that some of my former teachers could do a much better job than Congress, although that really isn't saying much.
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