Life promises us nothing. The quality of our lives is determined as much by arbitrary circumstance as it is by our individual capacity for learning and enterprise. And if we go by our standards here in America, the arbitrary circumstance for most of the world is pretty rough.
Take those in Syria, or in other countries desperate for survival, food and a form of government that offers them a chance at modest prosperity. We already have those things, yet our sense of well-being seems to be “slip-sliding away” as Paul Simon sang in the 70s. We worry about what the future holds for us.
Our high school graduates now have about the same chance of finding work as those coming out of college with a debt load that will consume much of their first decade of earnings. In Portland, Oregon where my daughter is a college senior, graduates make deli sandwiches and the sex trade is thriving.
Nationally, the job market is stagnant except in forward-looking industries. Employers are either flooded with applications for jobs they don’t have or with job openings for which they have no qualified applicants. Employment, like wealth, is polarizing, with menial service jobs at one end and higher paying jobs in the sciences, technology and innovation industries at the other. Even the professions offer less opportunity for secure employment and retirement savings.
A good part of the problem is that our schools continue to educate for a waning economy, not the emerging one.
Furthermore, we ourselves have gotten lazy about education, less in our schools than in our own homes. Education’s failing grades begin in the home, not in the school. We aren’t engaged in our children’s education, we don’t hold them accountable for their work. We are incurious ourselves. Helicopter parents are not accountable parents. They look over the teacher’s shoulder rather than over the shoulders of their children. They curry favor with their children whose affection they seem to need more than their respect. But what our children think about our parenting is far less important than how well we motivate and exemplify their love of learning.
As much as we may need to reinvent our schools and colleges for the future, we also need to remember that life is what we make it, not what our government gives us.
Reviving our once exemplary economy depends on repairing the damage we have done to the culture of our once revered educational system. This is at the heart of why things seem to be slip-sliding away. They are, and the fault is our own, not government, regulators, a welfare state, or any other sinister demon.
We must make education the number one topic in our homes and also in our schools, not carry on about job creators as if they were our only hope. We must regulate business fairly and strategically. We must rebalance the interests of our citizens and business. We must finally stop blaming everyone but ourselves.