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March 03, 2008



I'm a student in California, and my science teacher told us to watch 2 Million Minutes, tralier. After I watched the trailer, I understand that even the though the U.S. is number one ranking in the world, its academics and learning times are decreasing more and more. China and India are working hard at getting into the best college or having the best carrer while Americans are attending sports games and going to parties. We Amreicans need to know that we are lagging behind and will have to start to get to work or else we will not going to be the best country in the world anymore. We have to understand that China and India are working hard and fast, and America has to start catching up.

John Isett

Dear Mr. Compton,

This is not specifically a comment on the related blog post, but is rather an (in) direct attempt to contact you.

Just finished watching your CSPAN interview this evening and agree with all your observations and concerns (whether explicitly stated or implied). May I share a little bit of my experience, and perhaps you'll have some thoughts you might share.

I am a Ph.D. in Information Systems (with a strong undergraduate and Masters Computer Science background). Some would say I'm an engineer but I didn't want to take the 4-hour labs on Fridays during undergrad so I avoided the hard-core engineering curriculum. (Instead I majored in Math and CS--what a nerd.) I didn't notice any foreign students attending college at that time (grad 1973). But as a Ph.D. candidate I observed that most serious engineering and computer science students (Univ of Texas Austin, grad 1987) were foreign. I concluded that the reason for this was the inability of native students to submit to becoming a teaching assistant and slave to the sponsoring professor(s) for the many years it would take to complete a senior degree. (My schooling was paid for by the US Air Force so though there was pressure to finish there was no economic hardship or sacrifice nor any need for me to submit to the research interests of a sponsor.) I concluded my 20 years in the AF in 1994 and entered private industry where I observed some of the major problems in finding technical talent.

After a short stint with Bell Atlantic (too big and too much like government) I tried my turn in a couple of exciting start-ups. Though I worked well with engineers and consider them my favorite people, it was the senior management (of which I was a member, apparently, in name only) that introduced me to their disappointing lack of understanding of fundamental engineering principles . An attempt to start my own company proved that I am a sucker for a good story and place unwarranted confidence in those who really don’t want to work hard and truly could care less for the success of the company that employees them. This proved a personal financial quagmire from which it took many years to recover but as a result of which I am a far wiser and more careful business person.

Then about 5 years ago I tried my hand at “giving back” by teaching at a local college. At first, the underprivileged students who comprised my class were not too disappointing, but after a few years it was clear that the motivation of the school was to “get students” not “provide a quality education.” In other words the school wanted students who could get government grants and loans but made no attempt to qualify the student based on aptitude or ability. It was a monumental waste of time and money for most students and another eye-opener for (ever-optimistic) me. With the exception of a very few (and I can tell you the name of every one—all black or Hispanic) the students were a non-motivated bunch of slackers. The really sad part is that most of those who managed to graduate (and incur a $20,000+ debt along the way) have an education that is worth little more than the paper on which it is printed.

I now teach information technology part-time at the Univ of Tampa, and see in my American students the same lack of initiative you talked about on CSPAN and emphasis on social achievement rather than educational that your film portrays. My MBA students give me some hope as there is an occasional go-getter, but many are just checking the box. I set the bar for my students (both grad and undergrad) as high as I can, but in no case is it nearly as high as those set by the Chinese and Indian education systems. You would not be surprised to learn that the hardest working (and highest achieving ) undergraduate student I have had was native Chinese (from Shanghai) who was unable to qualify for college back home. This kid is so sharp that he actually has a better command of the English language than my American students. On the other hand, he is a social nerd, but if I were looking for someone who would bust his butt to get the job done, I know I could count on him.

I don’t mean to sound so negative, but I am moved by your concern with our education system and family values. As you noted most of our educators are ignorant of not only the foreign competition but the intensity of this competition to excel in engineering and math—and thus the true threat to global competitiveness our collective lack of this understanding represents. Perhaps you are aware of an emerging example—a $2,500 auto to be built by Indian company Tata?

My apologies if I have rambled. The goal of my contacting you, you ask? To say thanks for creating this film and to wish you good luck in its promotion. I am also interested in helping. I am at a time in my life where having a positive impact is more important than the paycheck . Perhaps there is some way I may be of assistance in your efforts, perhaps with the Gates Foundation? I am in St. Petersburg Florida.

Regards and Best Wishes,

John Isett, Ph.D.

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