Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bleak Post

By now it's an old story to talk about the death of American manufacturing and our losing economic war with a third world more than happy to slave away for an existence we couldn't even dream of.  Automaticity and new technologies have allowed us much greater efficiency and productivity.  But it doesn't seem to be trickling down much, aside from fancier consumer electronics and discounts off bulk purchases.  We've seen the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class lose whatever sense of job security it once thought it had.  As New Jersey Governor Chris Christie famously asked, "Who gets pensions any more?"

The whole field has indeed changed, and I'm not sure we can cope as a culture/society. In the past a blue-collar family could count on a simple high school education providing entrance and exit into a stable income. This essentially took care of a pretty vast swath of American humanity.

But the kind of economy we're seeing pan out is pretty brutal to these kind of family traditions. Essentially, the bar for human and social capital has been raised significantly higher than it ever was. It's all too common for commenters to make vague proclamations about needing to "fix" education, as if the problem was output. But the truth is that it is input. We simply don't have the capacity of quality families that can produce children that can excel in academics.

Now, as a teacher, don't believe for a second I'm not trying. And I honestly don't think I'm saying today's generation is any worse than it was in the past. We've always had these families, and their kids didn't need degrees to find quality careers. But it is as if we are trying to cram a square peg into a round hole. Sure, you can always tweak the education model. But the margin of improvement has far less to do with what you can do in the classroom compared with the reality of where society simply is at. 

The term "class warfare", as a rhetorical device, has been in the news lately.  But a real class war has been raging for decades.  Having lost the battle long ago to smart machines and overseas labor, blue collar American families found themselves forced to compete with the well-read and groomed upper socio-economic classes, despite a severe disadvantage in human and social capital.  Without an academic culture and strong support at home, preparing for college isn't something most can do completely on their own.  Those eventually managing to find "the world of the mind", and then going on to graduate, have found an over-saturated job market without enough supply to meet demand.

Despite the many shiny new trinkets that globalization has placed upon our shelves and inside our screens, we seem to be taking two steps back for every one forward.  Add to this our ideological spectrum bending relentlessly rightward, and our government expenditures on things that used to take the rough edges off an unforgiving economic platform - like roads, schools, police and health care, and the future looks bleak indeed.

1 comment:

  1. I agree, the future does look rather bleak... though few seem to be ready to say it out loud.