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Tuesday, November 20 , 2018, 12:41 pm | Fair 68º


Scott Harris: Energy and Education

We have to recognize that there is no generic set of standards, ways of teaching or pre-packaged programs that will work for everyone.

With incoming liberal President-elect Barack Obama — already tending toward moderation — and an outgoing conservative President Bush — already tending toward obscurity — we are naturally going to debate all the issues that liberals and conservatives love to debate: abortion, same-sex marriage, immigration, public safety, infrastructure, taxation, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the economic crisis.

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Scott Harris
It’s my sincere belief that we will solve these problems, never to everyone’s satisfaction, but in a way that benefits most Americans and hurts the fewest. In simple terms, facing and defeating great challenges is what Americans do best.

As a nation, we are the ultimate sleeping dog. Initially happy to be a British colony, the Brits could not leave well enough alone and eventually we revolted and defeated a nation previously thought invincible. We were isolationist and passive as World War I and World War II began, until prodded by world events to enter — and win — both wars. Stumbling along with our space program until surpassed by the Russians and challenged by President John F. Kennedy, we did the impossible and put a man on the man in less than a decade.

We now face two simultaneous challenges that demand the same sort of commitment we have shown in previous days: energy and education.

As Thomas Friedman details in his excellent new book, Hot, Flat and Crowded, the future balance of world power may very well hinge on which country first and most effectively develops the world’s next source of energy — clean, renewable, affordable energy. Friedman said: “This is a great challenge, but also a great opportunity, one that America cannot afford to miss. Not only is American leadership the key to healing the earth; it is also our best strategy for the renewal of America.”

In May 1961, President Kennedy stood before Congress and challenged us to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, saying, “I believe we possess all the resources and talents necessary. But the facts of the matter are that we have never made the national decisions or marshaled the national resources required for such leadership. We have never specified long-range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to insure their fulfillment.”

President-elect Obama has an opportunity to do the very same thing for energy that President Kennedy did for space travel. And we have an obligation to react with just as much focus and energy as we did in the 1960s. It’s quite possible the stakes are even higher now than they were in 1961.

However, the biggest difference between 1961 and today is education, or more precisely, the lack thereof. President Kennedy was able to say that we had the “resources and talents necessary” because we were the best educated country in the world, which is no longer the case.

Twenty years ago, we led the entire world in adults (age 25 to 34) with high school and college degrees. According to the Organization for Cooperation and Development, we have now dropped to 9th and 7th places, respectively. We are currently 18th in the world in secondary education. For us to continue being the greatest nation in the world, we have no choice but to refocus our energy on education. We spend more per student ($11,152) than any nation in the world, so the solution can’t simply be money. We have the world standard for universities (both public and private), but too many of our students take their American educations and leave for their “home” countries when they graduate. We need to ensure that the best and the brightest of American students receive the best possible education.

President-elect Obama has no greater challenge than bringing our educational system back to preeminence. This means bringing everyone, private and public, K-12 and secondary, unions, administrators, business and industry to the same table with a single goal. Find the best way possible to integrate all aspects of the U.S. education system into a cohesive, effective system that one again turns out the best-educated people in the world. It will require that the brightest and hardest-working students get the best possible education, regardless of their ability to pay. It means that while we do not want to leave any student behind, we have to recognize that different students have different capabilities and there is no generic set of standards, ways of teaching or pre-packaged programs that will work for everyone.

Most of all, it means that as a nation we have to accept that to remain great, we need great minds, and for that to happen we need to have the best possible system of education. The world is moving quickly and it’s a sure bet that the 17 countries who are doing a better job of educating their students than we are not going to wait around for us to catch up.

President-elect Obama, it is up to you to pull together the resources (in people and dollars) and to use your remarkable skills of persuasion and message of hope and change to make this happen. The commitment has to be made now and without reservations. Heed the words of President Kennedy: “If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.” Let’s get going.

Scott Harris is a political commentator. Read his columns and contact him through his Web site, www.scottharris.biz, or e-mail him at [email protected]

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