Our Education Industry Needs Some Retooling
After I graduated from that liberal re-education camp in Chapel Hill, I looked for the job to which I felt entitled. I found it at a Chapel Hill radio station that proudly paid me minimum wage. The pay was the same when I started to work for local station WEEB.
Even in the 1970s, a college degree in liberal arts was not a ticket to success. It was only when I went to "trade school" that I found a place in society and a career.
That "trade" was the practice of law. It might have been an electrical school or even a school for plumbers. The fact is that general education in the liberal arts is a wonderful thing. But it is not - and for many years has not been - the prerequisite young people need to create successful careers.
Currently, students go to 12 years of grade school, then to something called "college." They expect to find a job at the end of that 16-year road. Today, about 50 percent of new college graduates are unemployed or underemployed.
Mindlessly funding 16 years of general education with a goal of "academic literacy" is a cruel joke to a student if he finds no way to make a living based upon the skills he has studied. And mindlessly funding liberal arts at a school just because it has a great basketball team is a net loss for the taxpayer.
As much as the overpaid and underworked English professors might not like it, our state-funded higher education institutions as well as our high schools must be integrated into an overall state employment plan.
First, we must survey the jobs most likely to be required over the next 20 to 30 years. Then we must fund those institutions best equipped to give training in those areas.
It could very well be that traditionally African-American institutions like North Carolina A&T and traditionally marginalized schools like UNCG (formerly Women's College) - with their emphasis on technical education, such as their Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering - may be better equipped to train future workers than campuses like UNC-Chapel Hill with its emphasis on "well-rounded" education. If so, the more ignored campuses may need to be expanded at the expense of those which have historically experienced the greatest prestige.
Next, our schools of education must graduate more secondary-school teachers with technical backgrounds. Today, schools for teachers mostly teach liberal arts teachers how to teach. While there will always be a need to teach high school students basic English and history, there is also a need to recruit many, if not most, high school teachers with backgrounds in such diverse technical fields as commercial horticulture and machine tooling.
While there is some such vocational education now going on, it is generally reserved for those who are considered not to be "college material." In actuality, educational culture needs to be reversed.
Today, those who are not "smart enough" to understand "King Lear" are told they need to learn plumbing. The new culture should tell those who are not "smart enough" to program a manufacturing robot that they are consigned to a secondary tract of English literature.
But regardless of tract, given the fact that the college dropout rate remains at about 50 percent, every student who graduates from high school must be qualified to do a job which an employer needs done. Even standardized tests need to be modified in similar fashion to those used by the armed forces to evaluate mechanical literacy as well as reading comprehension.
It is often stated that education is an "investment" in our prosperity. But we continue to educate in the same nonspecific way we taught in the 19th century. The result is a work force with an analog education in a digital world. Over the next few years, our secondary schools, our universities and our employers must partner to create a nimble educational system that will retool education to meet the needs of a modern work force.
Where education complements the needs of employers, then the result is a good-paying job for the graduate and a higher tax base for the state. And that improved intellectual tax base can become the basis of the lower unemployment and long-term prosperity we all seek.
Robert M. Levy is chairman of the Moore County Republican Party. Contact him at Law52@prodigy.net.
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