The great American divide regards skills and knowledge
By Syd Goldsmith, Special to The China Post Wednesday, July 15, 2009, 10:43 am TWN
The rifts in American society are far more serious than the politics of election and recession and the strife between Republicans and Democrats. The deepest divisions are between those who have developed the skills necessary to deal with the world as it is and people who are unable to cope effectively in the workplace and at home.
Compared with other developed countries, we are not very good at providing a large segment of our population with the essential social, emotional and cognitive skills to succeed in the twenty-first century.
How Americans meet the educational challenges will determine whether the United States is a great nation or one in decline.
Many studies indicate that American education has been doing a poor job of passing on essential skills to the next generation. Respected researchers estimate that approximately one-third of American teenagers are more or less functionally illiterate, and lacking the social and emotional skills necessary to do all but the most menial work tasks.
High school dropout rates are rising, not falling.
America's Promise Alliance reports that approximately thirty percent of American teenagers do not finish high school with their cohorts, and 1.2 million teenagers drop out annually.
It has proven extremely difficult to remedy the skill deficiencies of dropouts, and waiting until junior or senior high school to initiate remedial programs is far too late.
Although more young Americans are going to college than before, skill level deficits have become so pervasive in American society that recent and projected growth in college population is not keeping up with the growth of the U.S. population at large. This could lead to a nation increasingly unprepared to meet the demands of the twenty-first century globalized workplace.
It suggests a people unable to agree on the public policies necessary to sustain world leadership and maintain a nation that is truly of the people, by the people, and for the people.
The huge skill gaps which separate the advantaged from the disadvantaged emerge very early in life.
Some fifteen percent of American children grow up without any meaningful presence of one parent or the other.
Several years before the current recession, research economists calculated that nearly one-third of American families would be classified as living in poverty if the official poverty level of US$21,000 per year for a family of four were adjusted for the cost of living in the cities where most poor live.
Pre-school children in these circumstances do not often get read to. Communication with parents who are poorly educated is perfunctory and negative. Child care is generally of poor quality in a grossly underpaid and under-regulated industry, if care is available at all.
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