Nation must regain focus on education
Historically, America has been at the forefront of education. We have some of the oldest institutions of middle school, high school and higher education. We were among the first nations to construct and finance public education. And ever since the beginning of our nation in 1776, education has been the backbone of America’s security.With Ivy League colleges and land-grant universities, America has always had an eye to higher education, specialized talents and much needed intellectual ability. But for most Americans, education stops with what was and is provided as a public right.When we were an agrarian nation, education took our kids up to a solid secondary education to become better managers of our prime industry. When we became an industrialized nation, education led the way with a high school education to prepare workers for the more demanding tasks of that industrial era.When we stood on the precipice of a more modern industrialized society following World War II, we upped the ante and created the GI Bill to allow — some would even say coerce — our youth to follow a higher educational course. Throughout the 1950s, graduating college students filled the professional ranks; the more demanding careers in law enforcement, medical support, accounting, management, aviation and pre-law.And then we stopped. Thinking ourselves capable of meeting the pinnacle of the nation’s needs, we allowed the GI Bill to fade away. We allowed the taxation system to stagnate when it came to education. We allowed the educational curricula to fracture and fall prey to nonnational needs. Of all the industrialized nations, we lost our will to engage in a national consensus on educational need and we allowed our educational standing in an increasingly demanding industrial complex to wane.In short, we forced the industrial base to look elsewhere for the talent needed to sustain our economy and, when it comes to law enforcement, the military and the defense industry, we fell behind 20 other nations in the training skills of our most vital employees.If we can accept that the computer, metallurgy, engineering, chemistry, optical, medical, energy, meteorological, electrical, space and control systems are the most demanding and most vital next generation industries and callings for the nation, then we must — as our forefathers did — fund and prepare the classrooms for that future.We became the top producer of agrarian products in the world simply because we got a jump on everybody else in small one-room classrooms across this nation, and then we continued to fund those schools and programs (like the FFA, the the National Farmers Union and 4-H) through today. And the result? We’re the top farming practices and output nation in the world.We became the world’s leading industrialized nation by funding public high school, turning out students who became more capable workers and are able to manage modern industrialized machines. We continued to fund that level of education, reaching higher standards for industry and agriculture by establishing state-owned universities, funded through the land grant laws of the last half of the 1800s. To know more, check out the more than 70 universities who are funded, in large measure, by the revenue streams earned off of public lands leased for their benefit.And yet we allowed these land-grant universities to change from free educational facilities to money machines for teachers, coaches, sports programs and administrators. Super Bowls alone garner huge fees, none of which is passed down to offset tuition. In 1970,what once was a minimal fee of $80 per term for a Californian or New Yorker freshman or woman is now above $6,000 per term. And yet they can pay even one sports coach $1.5 million per year — the tuition for 125 students.And now? We’re stacking the deck against American industry, against the safety of our nation. We’re favoring greed, sports corruption and a myopia of the real world’s newest industrial needs. We blindly hope that entrepreneurs will make startups in garages to rescue America. And yet we fail to recognize that 22 percent of Apple’s highest-level educational employees are not from this country. Their nationality is not a bad thing, but it does prove our stupidity of not preparing Americans first and foremost.We need, urgently, to turn back the clock and regain our emphasis on education that is based on the more demanding needs to come. We cannot rely on wealthy Americans, nor on students who mortgage their future with college loans, to secure this nation. The national interest must come first. We must reprioritize the future of our public education and national security. Peter Riva, formerly of Amenia Union, lives in New Mexico.