The Education Bail-Out

Writing in the New York Times on Sunday, Thomas L. Friedman makes an excellent case that what we need is not simply an economic stimulus plan, but a full scale commitment to educating the next generation in the math, science, and engineering skills that will create a new, green, efficient economy that will launch us into prosperity, not just bail us out of a recession.

Friedman quotes Dean Kamen (who really is some kind of genius-of-the-future walking among us):

“You can bail out a bank; you can’t bail out a generation,” says the great American inventor, Dean Kamen, who has designed everything from the Segway to artificial limbs. “You can print money, but you can’t print knowledge. It takes 12 years.”

Way back during the Debate season, Barack Obama had a moment when he turned to the audience and noted that Bush had missed an opportunity after September 11 when he asked Americans to “help” by shopping.  Obama made this remark with such seeming candor, and with what seemed to me such restrained bitterness, that I paused the debate and turned to my husband.

I had the distinct image of Barack and Michelle sitting in their home sometime after September 11, maybe immediately after the tragedy, maybe in the months and years that followed when everything spiraled so badly out of control, maybe after the unbelieveable election for Bush’s second term.  I imagined they said what we thought many times over those years: if we don’t educate the next generation better, if they can’t read and think critically, if they can’t understand and analyze the news, if they can’t fathom the global significance of America’s foriegn policy, if they can’t do the math and science that we need to innovate new clean technologies, maybe we really do deserve the train wreck of a leader we’ve been handed.  Unless the next generation can really think, and can think their way out of the problems they will surely be handed, and think of new ways to innovate our economy and serve our country, we’ll be saddled with another Administration like the one leaving office now. Or worse.

I suspect the Obamas knew, better and certainly earlier than most, that the future of the country depends absolutely on its leadership, but equally on how well we educate our children.  I’m certain that had he been President, Obama would have called on us to serve, to get involved in our communities, to do something productive, something that would have made us stronger, not more materially bloated.  But such a call would have had to come from a President who actually had the capacity to think.

We need to make sure that the Obama/Biden plans for education, for investment in green technology, and in commitment to service (and thus our increasing awareness of our place in the world) are not lost in the face of the current miserable economic climate .  We need the full scale change to start now, so that our children will have the jobs, and the candidates for leadership, that they need.

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