Mar 27 2008

Should we be surprised that our jobs are going away?

Published by at 1:31 pm under Current Events

Usually, when a discussion about outsourcing jobs is going on, the general consensus is that employers are looking for labor on the cheap. An Indian will work for a much lower wage than an American, and that is the reason jobs are disappearing to the subcontinent. I’m not disputing that money is a factor, even a major one, but I’m thinking that education has something to do with it as well.

Americans have a reputation for being stupid that is not entirely undeserved. Sure, we’re not all the beer-gutted, greedy, and incompetent sloths that are so often depicted in cartoons, but compared with people in Europe and Asia, Americans are sadly undereducated.

I had a friend in high school who was a foreign exchange student from Bosnia. At the age of 16 she could read, write, and speak in Bosnian, Hebrew, Arabic, and English. I could speak English and do some elementary things in German, such as say the days of the week and count. My friend also had a jump on me in the sciences and math, and part of her education had been conducted in a country torn apart by war. In a global marketplace, which of us was on the track for success? She was, no doubt about that.

For my second year in college, I signed up for a 200-level Composition course, assuming that my coursework would consist of writing essays. Imagine my surprise when the instructor told the class that half of our grade would be based on how well we performed in our GRAMMAR exercises. And this was not “advanced” grammar: the first four weeks were reviews of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. I was astonished that the instructor thought that people who had made it to the sophomore college level needed to learn 3rd grade grammar, but I was absolutely aghast when the girl I was sitting next to asked me – in all seriousness – “How do you know which ones the verbs are?” This girl was training to be a registered nurse.

AT&T promised in 2006 to return 5000 jobs to America. So far, it has filled only 1400 of those jobs. The company is having difficulty finding enough skilled workers. The CEO points out that in some areas and among some groups, the high school dropout rate is 50%. Should we be surprised that companies don’t want to hire people who are unable to finish high school?

Americans are hostile to learning and education. Someone who displays a higher level of comprehension or a higher interest in learning than his peers do is labeled as a “nerd”, “egghead”, “geek”, “know it all”, “smart ass”, “dork”. If the person’s learning makes his peers look bad, even inadvertently (think of the kid who knows the answer when no one else does), he is a “suck up”, “show off”, or “brown noser”. You think I’m only talking about children? I’ve seen this behavior in every job I’ve ever worked, including one in a high tech industry where knowledge was supposedly valued. It is not considered good to be above the pack in intelligence. It is only acceptable to be superior in physical things such as sports or looks.

Entertainment is another area in which intellectualism is frowned upon. I love to read. I read every day, either books or articles on the internet. Friends, co-workers, or classmates ask me how I spent the weekend, and I will often tell them that I read a book, only to be met with amazement or a sneer. “I don’t know how you can read so much,” they say. “I hate to read. I don’t think I’ve read a book since high school. It’s so boring. I can’t get into it.” Or, more alarmingly, “I can’t understand it.” It is much more acceptable to say that you spent the weekend watching movies or television, going to the bar, or even sleeping than it is to say you spent the weekend reading a book.

With such an attitude displayed even among the adults who should know better, how can we be surprised that our schools are turning out retarded children? Americans on the whole are unconcerned with education – it barely registers as a blip on many of my friends’ political radars, and a candidate whose main political platform is based around education is viewed as someone who is out of touch with the “real” issues. Schools are expected to do more with less and less. Funds are cut, teachers are laid off, music and art programs are shunted to the side. We are producing children who have been told through words and actions that learning is unimportant. Sure, the schools do their best to make things fun, but how can interesting lesson plans compete with the ridicule of their friends and the disinterest of their parents, not to mention the contempt of the government? Teachers themselves are often seen as lesser beings as children get older – they are viewed as notoriously “uncool” both in real life and in the media. Why? Probably because they know more. Kids are trained to view education as a necessary evil, school as something to be suffered through, and learning anything other than the absolute requirements as suspicious and vaguely un-American.

What does it say about our country when one of our hit game shows is called “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?”. . . and most of the country regards it as a difficult game? And sees nothing wrong with that?

We believe that we are entitled to be happy. After all, it says so in the Declaration of Independence, right? Wrong. The Declaration says that we are all entitled to the pursuit of happiness, and that is a big difference. We no longer want to work for what we want. Instead, we run up outrageous amounts of credit card debt, because we are all trained to need instant gratification. Education is the same way – if it’s too hard, we don’t want to do it. It shouldn’t be necessary. We don’t need geometry. Learning a foreign language is hard and it takes too long – everyone else should just learn English. We have a sense of entitlement and apathy that is seriously unattractive in a society such as ours, where the people are expected to be at least moderately intelligent, because we have to choose our leaders.

Our economy is in a serious downturn, and while it might not be totally due to the de-emphasis on education, I’m certain that it has played a role. We cannot compete – the rest of the world is smarter than we are. The rest of the world is more innovative. The rest of the world does not think it’s a crime to try new things, to hear new ideas, to think new thoughts, or the learn to adapt. We have trained ourselves to maintain the status quo, but the rest of the world is raising the bar and we cannot or will not leap to meet it.

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