WHAT THE UNITED STATES NEEDS TO DO NOW
TO REMAIN COMPETITIVE IN THE GLOBAL ECONOMY
The U.S. is in crisis mode, and it needs a clear vision to restore economic prosperity to its citizens. Internal nation-building is a priority for the preservation of the American way of life for current and future generations of Americans.
According to a 2011 report by the College Board, the U.S. has undergone, since the fall of 2008, one of the worst recessions since World War II. Although the recession officially ended in June 2009, its after-shocks are still lingering in the form of increased unemployment, foreclosures, and reduced federal and state budgets. With the manufacturing sector in decline since the 1970s with the advent of the era of globalization and increased automation, countries that excel are those that produce jobs that require brains over muscle. With decreased economic mobility and income inequalities being greater in the U.S. than in Denmark, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany, and France (per the Economic Mobility Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts), “Occupy” movements have spread to various cities across the U.S.
So the magic bullet appears to be to increase the educational attainment of the American workforce – which is not where it should be to remain competitive. According to the 2011 report by the College Board, the United States ranks 12th in postsecondary attainment among citizens between the ages of 25 and 34 in developed countries. South Korea, Canada, the Russian Federation, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, Denmark, Israel, Belgium and Australia are ahead of the United States. There are also racial and ethnic barriers that must be addressed. Among adults ages 25 to 34, 69.1 percent of Asians and 48.7 percent of whites have an associate degree or higher as of 2009 – compared to 29.4 percent of African Americans and 19.2 percent of Hispanics.
Recently, I experienced an incident at a movie theater in Fairfax, Virginia, that showed me vividly that the educational level of most youngsters is not where it should be. When I went to purchase tickets for the movie “Hoover,” the cashier did not make the association that I was referring to the “J Edgar” film. Instead, he thought that I wanted to see another film that they were showing that was called “Hugo.” Hoover and Hugo are not even close phonetically. When I told the cashier sarcastically that I was not interested in viewing a movie about Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro, he gave me this blank stare as if we were communicating in a foreign language. Upon realizing that we were not getting anywhere, I told him emphatically that I was looking to attend the "J. Edgar Hoover" movie -- and that he should be better aware of the history of his own country so that he could defend it against all enemies, both foreign and domestic. After this exchange, I wondered about the education that most teenagers were getting in high school and college.
You might think that the previous incident was an isolated one, but that is not the case. I read with great dismay a story in a major newspaper on December 23, 2011, about several youngsters getting assaulted and hurt at malls throughout the country with the release of the new model of Air Jordan shoes. I found it more disturbing when I reflected on the passivity with which most young Americans accept or ignore the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. This decision changed the political landscape of the Nation by allowing corporations and organizations to support or oppose candidates without financial restrictions. Rather than having a government of the people, by the people, for the people, Americans could have a government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations. As long as they keep their obsession with Air Jordan shoes, they won’t have time to worry about the erosion of the American way of life.
So, how do we turn things around? It all comes down to that magic bullet that I referenced earlier – education. I submit two recommendations to address this challenge.
The first deals with making college education shorter and more affordable by requiring a more focused curriculum that decreases the number of courses needed to graduate. With states scaling back university funding recently (state dollars now cover 7 percent of the cost of operating the University of Virginia, down from 26 percent two decades ago), tuition rates have doubled or tripled. Universities are also admitting more foreign students willing to pay a premium for a college degree, but the majority of these students go back to their home countries after graduation and don’t contribute anything to address this Nation’s educational and economic challenges. Consequently, I would encourage an increase in the number of courses that are taught online and a greater reliance on automation to grade tests, with a resulting decrease in administrative costs -- making a college education more affordable for everyone. One of the end results of this recommendation is that it will increase the supply of physicians and lawyers in the country. “Equal Justice under Law” will transform itself from a mere phrase engraved on the front of the United States Supreme Court building into an affordable reality for the 99%.
The second calls for the elimination of standardized tests all together. It is a breach of contract for parents and educators to advise youngsters to excel academically, and to change the rules of engagement after they deliver on their end of the bargain. If these youngsters have attained a grade point average of 3.0 or better, this should be the main consideration for accepting them into the college of their choice. Civil rights advocate Lani Guinier stated that “our society must reassess its system for identifying qualifications. There is an assumption that students who do well on SATs will succeed. In some communities, children are being prepared for the SAT tests as early as the 6th grade. And yet, studies show SAT scores are not a strong indicator of success in college or later in life.” There are also multiple studies that show that these tests are culturally biased by not measuring the aptitude of students, but rather by measuring their knowledge of mainstream White culture. And, by the way, income differences do not explain the racial gap.
A 2011 article from the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education showed that Whites from families with incomes of less than $10,000 had a mean SAT score of 993 (130 points higher than the national mean for all African Americans), while Whites from families with incomes below $10,000 had a mean SAT test score that was 17 points higher than African Americans whose families had incomes of more than $100,000. With the Census Bureau predicting that minorities will become the majority of the U.S. population by 2042, together with a 10% increase in retirements by aging baby boomers in the Federal Government during the first 10 months of 2011, it makes no sense to use unreliable and biased tests that create barriers for the United States to regain its preeminent position in world markets.
Now, when the stakes are so high, it is not the time to renege on the American Dream.