Before the summer ends, I’d like to recommend a book for you to read (if you haven’t already). That book is “The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century” by Thomas L. Friedman. While I think he could have said it in fewer words, I do think he makes several very important points that all policy makers should be aware of. In particular, he makes important statements about the direction of our educational system, it’s impact on the economy and national priorities.
One thing I disagree with the author on is the cause of the crisis in technical education in this country. He compares the US today with the US in 1957 - just prior to Sputnik. He believes that the falling interest in technical education is due to a lack of promotion at the national level, such as what happened at the beginning of the Space Race.
While more promotion won’t hurt, I don’t believe it will completely solve the problem. With the author, I believe convincing people that there is some “national priority” they should focus on is going to be tough. Our country fosters an attitude of independence that tends to slight group think except under the most dire circumstances. While armed conflict qualifies as an obvious “national priority”, making this country more profitable is a much tougher sell.
The reason is this: I believe that the primary reason for lack of interest in technical fields is quite simply one of perceived monetary incentives. People will move towards what they perceive as the most personally beneficial scenario, within the limits of what they can personally tolerate. Most people do not perceive themselves as business owners - large companies try to keep people from thinking that way - and as a result, don’t believe they have either the means or a stake in solving this problem in the large. Most people only think of themselves - not the companies they work for (not surprising when you consider the lack of loyalty most companies have towards their employees).
Even those invested in the stock market would be hard pressed to see how investing in America will benefit them as stockholders. The chain of logic is just too long.
Given that, what are we to do? Simple: We must create systems that provide the means/ incentives to move society in the direction needed by the country as a whole. These systems could include such things as:
A) government funded continuing education, to reduce the financial risk of training in the wrong thing.
B) Changed legal incentives guaranteeing inventors a minimum percentage income from their patents, even if those patents are assigned to their employer.
I dont’ claim to have all the answers, but I do recognize the need for incentive systems to motivate behavior. I don’t believe that a lot of national cheerleading will be enough.