America: The land of opportunity. At least, it used to be.
These days, such mantras as “land of opportunity” or “the American dream” seem like the platitudes of a bygone era, etched into the ruins of some ancient empire, ebbed away by the sands of time. Or in our case, it has been eroded by the stagnating and declining middle class. The solution to this problem is simple to state and hard to implement: Public education needs to be widely available and useful.
Since the 1980s, America as the land of opportunity has pretty much ended. Many believe a major reason for this is declining quality in broadly available education.
In a Feb. 16 opinion column, Joseph E. Stiglitz of The New York Times summarized the history of the decline of the middle class: “The poor grew poorer, the middle stagnated and the top did better and better. Disparities widened between those living in poor localities and those living in rich suburbs … A result was a widening gap in educational performance—the achievement gap between rich and poor kids born in 2001 was 30 to 40 percent larger than it was for those born 25 years earlier.”
I guess that’s better than the age-old “the rich get richer and the poor get children,” but only slightly. Either way, things are looking bleak for America. One might be tempted to jump ship and start bear hunting in the Yukon for a living.
Education has taken a lot of budget hits over these last few years, but it’s not just about money. There are other factors affecting education quality: teacher qualification, class size and quality of the facilities in use. Not making our schools a battleground for political squabbles might be a good idea, too, but that’s a separate article.
Costs of higher education and alternatives to higher education need to be dealt with, too. The declining middle class is the disease, and problems with the availability of a quality education for all is a major cause. America needs a strong middle class, and in a post-industrial society, education is the way to do it. Working a white-collar job on a blue-collar salary won’t work anymore. Times have changed, and so has America.
Some might say education reform can wait, and there are other issues the nation must face first. Crumbling infrastructure, nuke-happy dictators, pollution, high gas prices, erectile dysfunction—all problems we need to deal with.
Yet, without a strong middle class, or even simply a viable middle class, what future does America have? America has needed education reform for some time, and now the future of our middle class depends on making big changes to the way we educate our children.
It won’t be easy, but nothing worth fighting for ever is. Ensuring America is still the land of opportunity is certainly worth fighting for.
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