Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In the stock-market of America, high-speed rail is up; education is down.

President Obama is eager to be competitive with the rest of the world. That's why he is promoting high-speed rail so aggressively. 

You may be amazed to hear that far-Left Intellectual Noam Chomsky makes the same comparison with other countries and advocates HSR assertively. The US is way behind other countries, who are way ahead with high-speed trains, we are told.  That, apparently is enough reason for the US to sink at least a trillion dollars into catching up.  

Too bad Professor Chomsky didn't talk to some of his transportation colleagues at MIT about all this and find out the realities behind the rhetoric. Isn't his specialty linguistics? Doesn't he recognize when he's being lied to?

My point is that the race with the rest of the industrial world seems to be about building luxury trains that go fast.  The country with the most toys wins.  That this is totally transparently absurd seems to occur to almost no one. Well, just to a few cranky curmudgeons here and there.

You may ask, if you think that high-speed rail is not what the race to win the future is all about, as President Obama proposes, what is the race all about?

Read just the two excerpts of a book review below from a recent copy of the New Yorker.  The article, by Elizabeth Kolbert, is about an issue that has raised a great deal of contention regarding child rearing and education in the US.  

I won't get into the issue here, but want to present a summary of some harsh facts cited in the article. Please understand, I do not endorse the premises of the book in question; nor does Elizabeth Kolbert.  It's American education deprivation that concerns me.

The first issue is that American industrial might has been declining for a long time.  I lived in a Pittsburgh, PA that was famous for having been the center of steel production in the US and in the world.  Now, those industries have simply disappeared; gone overseas.  Same with Gary, Indiana, another former steel center of the world.  I say former.  

Detroit is now almost a skeleton of a city that was once the capital of automotive production in the world.  The US has been, one way or another, shipping manufacturing capacity overseas for decades.  And, of course, we will never, ever, be the employer we once were.  That's really hard to get one's head around. 

Here is what Kolbert says:

It’s just about impossible to pick up a newspaper these days—though who actually picks up a newspaper anymore?—without finding a story about the rise of the East. The headlines are variations on a theme: “SOLAR PANEL MAKER MOVES WORK TO CHINA”; “CHINA DRAWING HIGH-TECH RESEARCH FROM U.S.”; “IBM CUTTING 5,000 SERVICE JOBS; MOVING WORK TO INDIA.” What began as an outflow of manufacturing jobs has spread way beyond car parts and electronics to include information technology, legal advice, even journalism. 

Now, about education.  Even as a product of American public education, I can't say that it too was the greatest in the world. But, we can certainly read daily how much it has deteriorated over recent years into a third rate, third world system, especially K-12.  Our Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan comments about it quite bluntly in another excerpt, below. 

So, there are now fewer than ever jobs, and fewer than ever people prepared to do what jobs there are, since they are being turned out of our failing education system unprepared and unequipped for the labor market. 

Nonetheless, our great State of California, at the edge of bankruptcy, is slashing education budgets to the bone.  I remind you that money is the necessary if not sufficient condition for an adequate, not to say superior, education system.

The facts speak for themselves. Blame whoever you wish, unions, teachers, administrators, politicians, even parents. But, without an adequately funded school system, nothing else can be fixed with the schools.("To a hungry man, God can appear only in the form of bread.")

We have argued often that the most significant, most important, most critical natural resource a nation or state can have is its educated population.  Without that, we are doomed to mediocrity.  It's the critical difference between first and third world nations.  

Yet, we appear to be working to cut funding for those living at or below the poverty level, and I'm talking about children.  (Not your or my children of course, but millions of other children nonetheless.)  In California, once the leader in American education school system competence and productivity, we are slashing those budgets as well.  You know that poor children do less well in school than those of the well to do and middle classes.  

If the US lacks a well educated labor force, it really doesn't matter if there are jobs or not.  We won't have any one to fill those jobs.  Silicon Valley is back to massive hiring, with all sorts of seductive inducements.  Who are they hiring?  Where are these people from? Where did they receive their education?

What I'm getting at here is that the Administration in Sacramento is ruthlessly willing to slash education and other child oriented funding in the name of budget balancing, but stand by to let high-speed rail drain this state of billions of dollars, not only now, but forever. Why? To build a luxury train with our tax dollars for the well to do who don't really need it.

This is a form of cultural insanity!

What’s behind the“Tiger Mother” craze?
by Elizabeth Kolbert
JANUARY 31, 2011

 Last month, the results of the most recent Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, tests were announced. It was the first time that Chinese students had participated, and children from Shanghai ranked first in every single area. Students from the United States, meanwhile, came in seventeenth in reading, twenty-third in science, and an especially demoralizing thirty-first in math. This last ranking put American kids not just behind the Chinese, the Koreans, and the Singaporeans but also after the French, the Austrians, the Hungarians, the Slovenians, the Estonians, and the Poles.

“I know skeptics will want to argue with the results, but we consider them to be accurate and reliable,” Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, told the Times. “The United States came in twenty-third or twenty-fourth in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”