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June 02, 2008

Comments

Chuck Hackwith

I responded in email to a Los Angeles Times article today that for the most part reviewed your film and relied upon an interview with you that made critical comparisons between your observations of superior "technically" oriented education in India and China, especially in math and science) and the deficient American educational system. While in this WUMB radio interview you acknowledge the differences in culture, as well as the hundreds of millions of people in these countries who subsist in poverty, you seem to stress the superiority of these countries' high school programs on the basis of a now common premise ..that our schools are failing. I note that your teenaged daughters attend a "good" private school, yet you feel they are behind in the subjects typically associated with preparing students for the 21st century's global economy ...almost a mantra for some theorists and corporate spokesmen. I also noted that you compared the amount of money expended per child in these countries with that spent in the U.S., a bit of gerrymandering of stats, perhaps, that couldn't account for the wide diversity of schools and budgets in this country, nor the requirements for safety, sanitation, school construction and so-called "capital" and "administrative" expenditures which dominate school budgets.

I happened to have ended my mainframe, business computer programming career several years ago, about the time when IT "outsourcing" to places like India became more pronounced in corporate America. Before that I had a very brief career as a public elementary school teacher. It deeply affected me that I was unequipped to deal with the problems of educating poor Hispanic and Afro-American kids. I am also the product of a 1950's high school type of education that was alarmingly held up as inferior in math and science to that of the Soviet Union, during the panicky days when the Soviets' space technology program rocketed Sputnik into space orbit. So, this is not essentially a new issue ...the "threat" to U.S. hegemony, as it was during the "Cold War", nor is the division of opinion as to what U.S. education should be about. What has changed inevitably are the conditions of the world and its people , as well as the dawning revelation among some of us that the world, its peoples and its resources are finite and very vulnerable to perish.

I submit that we are indeed in trouble in the U.S. (and the world) and that this is in great part due to poor education, however I don't believe that the premise of more stress on math and science subjects, in themselves and no matter how facilitated, are the solutions for the 21st century, when seen mainly from the perspective of "competition" advantage. Therefore, "solutions" which emerge from various top-down, governmental or institutional sources may well miss the mark. When you asked those aspiring engineers in the schools you visited, did you ask if they wanted to help their fellow human beings to a better life, while perhaps limiting their own pursuit of the "good life"? That's an aspect of education I may have missed in your campaign. Some have even coined this as "social entrepeneurship". I sort of think of this aspect as "moral" education, but even that expression could elicit controversy. Thanks for the space.

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