Sunday, August 8, 2010

Pushing the Mental Play Button - How We Get Off Hold

Bob Herbert has written an thought and comment provoking column for the New York Times titled Putting Our Brains On Hold. The column was published on August 6, 2010 and two days later has attracted more than 820 comments filling 33 web pages. I have just read the first 100 of them, but they indicate that Bob has touched a real nerve.

His column is a lament about the sad state of education in America; his focus is the country's gradual slide from the top to number 12 on the list of 36 developed countries when measured by the percentage of people aged 25-34 with college degrees. Herbert believes that this single statistic is illustrative of a trend that has been going on for many years where educational achievement has been devalued and replaced by a thirst for entertainment, desire to cut spending, and a media focus on simple story lines that do not encourage critical thinking skills.

The commenters have introduced some additional areas of concern including the rising cost of college educations, the rising importance of government guaranteed student loans as a profit center for banks, the actions by big business to devalue employees, the increasing trend of offshore production, and the changing value that parents put on education compared to sports. There have also been quite a few who have pointed to the size of military and prison operations budgets compared to the budgets going to support primary, secondary and college education.

Now that the diagnosis is reasonably clear and some of the contributing factors have been identified, the question that always interests me is - how do we fix the problem? What can older Americans who generally have achieved higher levels of education do to help change the momentum from falling to rising again? Let's see if we can build a list of actions. I'll start with an unordered list.
  • Emphasize educational achievement in our own families.
  • Attend public meetings supporting school budgets.
  • Question salaries for coaches compared to professors.
  • Change buying habits to emphasize quality and value over price.
  • Encourage technological advances.
  • Work to lower the cost of higher education for all students.
  • Turn off television sets more often.
  • Encourage higher levels of literacy.
  • Volunteer in local schools as a speaker.
  • Read to young people.
  • Help parents understand their value in the educational process.
  • Emphasize the value of an accessible public education system. (Remember, not everyone has the good fortune to be born in a family with capable parents.)

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