Sunday, October 01, 2006

Are We Losing the War For Innovation? Part V

“If current trends continue, the proportion of workers with high school diplomas and college degrees will decrease and the personal income of Americans will decline over the next 15 years.” This is the opening paragraph of an important policy alert issued about one month ago by The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, an independent, non-partisan organization.

The report, published annually continues, “The projected decline in educational levels coincides with the growth of a knowledge based economy that requires most workers to have higher levels of education. At the same time the expansion of a global economy allows industry increased flexibility in hiring workers overseas [outsourcing]. As other developed nations continue to improve the education of their workforces, the United States and its workers will increasingly find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.”

In other words, foreign countries will be eating our lunch. If you have read all or some of the four preceding articles on this subject, the answer to the question in the headline above, “Are We Losing the War For Innovation?” is glaringly obvious—you’re darn right we are!

In addition to our existing educational system deficiencies, our student underperformance, and lack of competitive college graduation trends, especially in science and engineering, there is another more insidious and unfortunately, a much less openly discussed crisis in the making. It is reflected in the following statistics cited in the National Center’s report: “…the gap among racial/ethnic groups in levels of education completed are widening.” Of the working-age population , the most progress in attaining a bachelor degree or higher was made by Asian Americans, progressing from a level of 36% in 1980 to 46% in 2000. Whites advanced from 20% to 30% in that same period, while African-Americans improved from 9% to 16%. Hispanic-Latinos moved from only 8% to 11%.

Why is this so problematic? The report explains, “The U.S. workforce (generally ages 25 to 64) is in the midst of a sweeping demographic transformation. From 1980 to 2020, the white working-age population is projected to decline from 82% to 63%. During the same period, the minority portion of the workforce is projected to double (from 18% to 37%), with the Hispanic/Latino portion alone projected to almost triple (from 6 to 17%).”

The report continues, “The greatest increase in population growth in the U.S. workforce is occurring among those racial/ethnic groups with the lowest level of education, while the group reaching retirement age is predominantly white with higher levels of education. In 2000, whites ages 25 to 64 were twice as likely as African-Americans to have a bachelor's degree, and almost three times as likely as Hispanics/Latinos.”

While some might consider raising the “race/ethnic card” insensitive at best, discriminatory at worst, these are facts that cannot be disputed. In fact, a firestorm of criticism arose recently when the former three-time governor of Colorado, Richard Lamm, claimed that cultural differences amongst ethnic groups were responsible for many of the problems experienced by minorities. So, let’s play a little game to determine whether or not you agree with Lamm’s theory, thereby determining if you deserve the wrath of his critics, or their concurrence.

In a new book titled Two Wands, One Nation: An Essay on Race and Community in America, Lamm writes, “Let me offer you, metaphorically two magic wands that have sweeping power to change society. With one wand you could wipe out racism and discrimination from the hearts and minds of white America. The other wand you could wave across the ghettos and barrios of America and infuse the inhabitants with Japanese or Jewish values, respect for learning and ambition.” Lamm continues, “I suggest that the best wand for society and for those who live in the ghettos and barrios would be the second wand.”

Lamm then elaborates, “Racism and discrimination clearly still exist, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that the problem of minority underperformance is much broader and more nuanced than can be explained by the impact of racism alone.” In an interview Lamm is also quoted as saying, “I don’t believe that Asians are naturally smart and Hispanics are naturally dumb. I believe that different cultures give different signals and some cultures are giving out stronger performance signals than others.”

Don’t make your decision yet, since the debate escalated when the current Colorado governor, Bill Owens (who unlike Lamm is a Republican), entered into the fray by agreeing with Lamm. He defended him by saying he wished his children had more of the Asian and Jewish culture—“There are many days when I wish they’d get up early in the morning; I wish they would work harder, and in many respects that’s what we see out of many of the Asian and the Jewish culture.”

Note that the key word used by both governors is “culture.” If you believe culture is a major determinant in a child’s educational performance and ultimate success in life, apparently critics might term you a racist and a bigot. In our little game, if you do fall into the pro-culture category, do you believe you deserve those words of condemnation?

If critics really want something to condemn, how about this statement? “What we have here are symptoms of a depressing cultural illness, frequently fatal, that has spread unchecked through much of black America. The people who are laid low by this illness don’t snitch on criminals, seldom marry, frequently abandon their children, refer to themselves in the vilest terms (niggers, whores, etc), spend extraordinary amounts of time kicking back in correctional institutions, and generally wallow in the deepest depths of degradation their irresponsible selves can find.”

You might think that critics would jump all over the author of this screed, except for one significant factor — these are the views of Bob Herbert, columnist for TheNew York Times, who happens to be black.

Or how about this statement? “There are so many things that we know are indicators of a crisis within the [black] community. When you look at the high dropout rate, especially among our boys. Or the out-of-wedlock birth rate, which is really alarming. Or the high rate of incarceration.” Is this type of speech subject to being viewed as racist or intolerant? If so, the speaker, Juan Williams, an Emmy winning writer (21 years with The Washington Post), radio, TV correspondent, and author of a brand new book titled Enough, would be so denigrated, except for the fact that he too is black.

Williams is a great fan of Bill Cosby who has been preaching a similar sermon for several years. Williams elaborates further. “When you hear boys saying it’s a ‘rite of passage’ to go to jail, or the thing that is so controversial but has been going on for a while — kids telling other kids that if they’re trying to do well in school they’re trying to act better than me or ‘trying to act white’ — all of these are indications of a culture of failure [my underline]. These are things that undermine a child or an individual who is trying to do better for himself or herself. These are things that drag you down.”

Regarding Hispanics, Lionel Sosa is a staunch Republican and was the owner of the largest Hispanic advertising company in America. He recently wrote a book titled, The American Dream: How Latinos Can Achieve Success in Business and in Life. He identifies the main obstacle to Mexican-American upward mobility as “cultural”: specifically, “resignation of the poor to poverty, low priority of education, and mistrust of those outside the family — to be poor is to deserve heaven, to be rich is to deserve hell…it is good to suffer in this life because in the next life you will find eternal reward.” He then explains, “This leads to a fatalism where individual initiative achievement, self-reliance, ambition, aggressiveness — all these are useless in face of an attitude that says we must not challenge the will of God.”

If you still believe these types of statements and attitudes are the result of prejudice and intolerance, consider the source of the above information on Mr. Sosa and Hispanics — Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination (C.A.R.D.), an organization whose name denotes its purpose. In a web posting this past August, C.A.R.D., an organization that obviously abhors all vestiges of prejudice and discrimination made the following statement:

“How do we lovingly, yet honestly diagnose the large economic, education and success gap between black/Hispanic America and white/Asian America? The problem of crime, educational failure, drugs, gangs, teenage pregnancy, and unemployment that burden certain groups threaten our collective future. We need to think about these problems with a new sophistication; increasingly scholars are saying ‘culture matters’ [my emphasis].” The C.A.R.D. article then makes this rather surprising statement: “I’m impressed for instance, that the highest family incomes in America are earned by minorities that have suffered discrimination. Japanese-Americans, Jews, Chinese-Americans, and Korean-Americans all out-earn white Americans by substantial margins.”

Even more tellingly, C.A.R.D. then propounds the following, apparently no longer radical theory: “I suggest that these groups whose culture and values stress education, hard work, and success are those groups that succeed in America — regardless of discrimination. I further suggest that, even if discrimination was removed, other groups would still have massive problems until they developed the traits that lead to success. Asian and Jewish children do twice as much homework as black and Hispanic children, and get grades twice as good. These are not racial differences; they are differences in attitude, values, and work habits that are within our individual control.”

Well, hello Governors Lamm and Owens. Apparently your ideas relating to the importance of culture have been vindicated. Interestingly, this article from C.A.R.D. was written in August, several months after the Lamm book was published, and also after the controversy erupted relating to Owens' defense of Lamm’s writings. It would be ironic if Lamm’s critics attempted to censure or condemn the Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination for advocating the same ideals they (the critics) found so objectionable when emanating from the two governors. There is no indication they have done so.

Why is all this so important?Just as the key factors in real estate are “location, location, location,” it is becoming increasingly obvious the key factors in education are “culture, culture, culture.” If cultural factors are as critical as described above, social, government, education, and minority leaders should be working to inculcate the benefits of those cultural factors that lead to success, and to diminish those deadly factors that threaten so many youths currently. That will undoubtedly be a very difficult task. However unless we see some significant leadership toward that end, the specter of a transformed population, increasingly weighted by those with what many view as cultural deficiencies, will surely have a detrimental effect on this country’s future.

The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2050 the total U.S. population will number some 420 million with a bare majority of non-Hispanic whites at 50.1 percent; Hispanics at 25 percent; blacks at 15 percent, and Asians at 8 percent. At least some portion of the black and Hispanic 40 percent could be undereducated, as well as unprepared to function optimally in what is certain to be an even tougher competitive global environment than today.

This is summed up in an article posted on Business Week Online last November under the headline, “America the Uneducated,” that states: “…for the first time ever, America’s educational gains are poised to stall because of growing demographic trends. If these trends continue, the share of the U.S. workforce with high school and college degrees may not only fail to keep rising over the next 15 years but could actually decline slightly…” It then refers to the National Center for Public Policy report mentioned above and continues, “The key reason: As baby boomers retire, they’ll be replaced by mounting numbers of young Hispanics and African Americans, who are far less likely to earn degrees.” Does this article by a national media organization imply that it too is prejudiced and racist?

In answer to the headline question, posed over the past five months, we are not only losing the war for innovation currently, but unless we quickly and firmly change cultural attitudes, we are certain to fall even further behind in tomorrow’s world. Unfortunately, at our current rate of educational progress (the more accurate word would be “regress”) the 21 st will certainly not be another American century.


At 5:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent article and oh so sad. I grew up in the golden age of America, the 50 and 60s. I thought it would last forever. Here is a question. How much of this problem do we owe to the complete failure of our democracy to work for the benefit of the American people as a whole?


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