Authentic Education?

The New York Times published an article yesterday entitled How U.S. Lost Out on iPhone Work. This article is not necessarily a counter perspective or even an affirmation of my earlier post regarding PRI’s This American Life show featuring Mike Daisey and his research into Apple’s less than idealistic manufacturing facilities in China. My purpose for engaging this discussion is more centered on whether the U. S. educational institutions, both K-12 and higher education, are productively preparing students for our United States economy. Could our constant desire for our students to get four year college degrees actually be hurting economic recovery? Are we only preparing knowledge workers that are not inclined for what was termed in the article middle-class jobs? Are the high costs of college and the “you can do anything you want” forcing graduates to not only want, but need high salary jobs? Here are some quotes from the article that spurred this perspective.

“…China could deliver workers — and diligence — that outpaced their American counterparts.”

“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”

“The U.S. has stopped producing people with the skills we need.”

It begs a question. Who is responsible? Is it the ineffective preparation system for our nation’s students or is it American industry that has totally missed the evolutionary mark and cannot even meet their own needs…again? Both?
I live in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. It is a stones throw from the legendary Bethlehem Steel plant that not only failed to recognize the need to modernize its facilities, but also, in its gross neglect of the business, hurt many of its devoted workers both financially and emotionally. The glory days ended for many in a very undesirable way. Bethlehem Steel lost its reality. It never thought the country would outlive its viability in the marketplace.
On the other hand, the U. S. educational system (especially higher ed) has also begun to graduate everyone with a sense of entitlement. Think about what it meant fifty years ago when someone graduated from college. Does it hold the same “wow” factor now? A BA has almost become the new standard and even as impressive as students may think it is, it does not guarantee a well paying position or even a position. A BA is what high schools use as the gold standard. See…”X” percent of our students graduated college. Thanks for the sales pitch colleges, but the reality is most have probably spent more on tuition than they will be able to repay in the next fifteen years.
The same prep system has also said “do what you really want to do” regardless of what the job market may actually need. Has our educational system lost their way like Bethlehem Steel? Is it losing its viability in the eyes of our nations industries or has industry lost its ability, desire, or care to work with the under qualified and overconfident American population because they simply do not have to put forth the effort in other economies?
This post could last for thousands of words. I have many thoughts about this subject that raises more questions than it answers.
I leave with one last thought. Education needs to be viable not only to our interests as individuals, but also to the greater good of society. That means putting a dose of reality into students. China’s population will work at all costs and even tolerate the poorer working conditions as a way of life. Let’s ensure that educational offerings do not lose the reality of situation and flagrantly toss around false and overly idealistic perspectives to students. When both industry and education meet and share a meaningful conversation, there might be a solution on the horizon. Until then, I am afraid several thousand students will graduate several times with several degrees that will hold very little value economically in today’s workplace and honestly wonder why. Sad…
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