So is the U.S. in trouble? Is the strongest economy ever a generation or two away from mediocrity? Nope. There is one area where we still lead in education: higher education. The total expenditure per student in the U.S. is $18,570, compared to Denmark at #2 with $11,600 and Britain at #3 with $8970. [Adrian Wooldridge, 'The Class of 2006', Economist, (2007)]
o The top three universities (Harvard, Stanford and Cal-Berkeley).
o Eight of the best ten (Cambridge and Oxford were also here).
o Seventeen of the top twenty (add Tokyo University at #20).
o Thirty seven of the best 50 universities.
As a nation, we have, apparently, decided to focus on the few who will lead and produce. Who said there is no gifted children program in the U.S.? We have, it’s just that it is limited to higher education. Something is working, and this could well be the answer.
Our university system, though, can be better. We rank #13 to Sweden (#1) and Finland (#2) in college affordability, and #4 in accessibility to the Netherlands. Plus, our net cost after tax expenditures of $11,283 is next to Japan ($14,040) for developed countries.
It would be callous and careless to say that it might not matter if every citizen is perfectly educated. Certainly, educate to minimize the development of the criminal element. Of course, provide every opportunity to all children. We should, though, initiate the optimization process at the K-12 level with a more progressive program for the potentially gifted. The able should be even more outstanding in college to determine who will rule the corporate world and lead and produce in the public sector, whether it be government or academia. The finest will succeed with greater capability. The Nation and World will benefit. I just hope that the next generation will have a higher appreciation beyond profits and power. We lack a basic humanitarian trait and don’t have sufficient appreciation for the environment. The 4 R’s beyond the classical 3R’s are advocated to insure for this more responsible future.
In any case, this chapter is incomplete. It represents certain thoughts that entered my brain somewhere back in time and remained. However, these are seminal educational opportunities worthy of pursuit that I bequeath to the educational world and humanity at large:
o Initiate formal teaching at the age of 2. However, stress imagination, not civil obedience. A child at that age has an incredible ability to visualize the unimaginable. Human societies extinguish that flame to maintain order and sanity. This inspired impulse rarely returns when quenched. How to teach the student to be a progressive citizen, while nourishing this creativity, will be an important key to the future of our civilization. How to afford this luxury? Well, maybe we can end wars and spend some of these defense savings for education.
o Spend these early years, 2-5, identifying the one and two marshmallow children, so that we design an optimal educational pathway for them. One strategic must would be to work with the village to direct the potential mental case, drug addict or delinquent—and usually all three characteristics are blended in these individuals—towards a more productive life. All the signs might not yet be evident, but this is that influential period when education can, indeed, make that crucial difference.
o Teach the full Rainbow spectrum: Reading, ‘Riting, ‘Rithmetic, Rigor, Respect, Relevance and Relationship. There seems to be a sense that an American education actually does make our graduates more creative and assertive, and we must nurture the positive aspects of those attributes and improve on them.
o Begin converting all libraries into virtual ones. Go to Bill Gates and Google for help. This will save a lot of trees and make information access much more efficient and cost-effective.
o Double the education budget. Take money away from war.
o Maintain a superior higher education system. As a corollary, recognizing that universities can serve as the economic engine for a community, the business sector and local legislature should recognize the wisdom of partnering and contributing to the greatness of their college campuses.
Science and engineering got a jolt of support nearly half a century ago, thanks to the Soviet Union and Sputnik, leading to landing Neil Armstrong on the Moon. A decade later, in the mid-70’s, the U.S. ranked #3 on percentage of undergraduates in engineering. Today we rank #17. This sounds familiar, but I’ll say it again: it is not that we only need engineers to save the world, but this plunge is symptomatic of a dangerous trend in a world more and more dependent on technology. Sure we need engineers, but clearly with more heart and sense, plus the range of associative specialties to provide balance and imagination.
We react to crises. Peak Oil and Global Warming loom as the next combined peril. Alas, the prevailing attitude seems to be, what crisis? Maybe that’s just the nature of human society today. Thankfully, someone, or a discerning group, some time back in our history, crafted a total educational system that has worked. The World might not this cycle react in time, and the consequences will be dreadful, but I would not be surprised if the USA subsequently rebounds to maintain our dominance.
Thus, the simplest solution to education in the USA is to maintain the course, but, by gosh, strive to do even better, as suggested above. Certainly, don’t unnecessarily anguish, as we are doing fine, in fact, terrific!
Ida is still causing trouble as a Nor'easter up the Atlantic coast, having killed 124 in El Salvador (although recent data suggests that it was another storm responsible for those landslides) and at least 5 in the U.S.