I have attended more than 30 university commencements in my teaching career but never before have I heard such frank podium talk about the slippage of quality in American education.
Dr. Craig R. Barrett (Intel chairman) framed part of his excellent commencement address to the University of Montana graduates upon a statement he found in a Chinese fortune cookie: "You cannot win unless you choose to compete." He then characterized education provided to students in the United States as "mediocre at best." He continued by saying that if the United States is to win, it must choose to compete by doing things differently and not just by hoping it will get better. Barrett concluded his address by naming two things that can never be taken from us: education and personal integrity. What if the education that cannot be taken away from us, however, is a "second-tier education"? A "second-tier education" is how UM President George Dennison, at Saturday's commencement, defined the quality of U.S. education when it competes on the international educational stage. What effect does mediocre second-tier education have upon personal and national integrity?
If it is true that the United States is currently not competitive with countries such as China, our country must choose to compete before its fortunes rest entirely with China. Thomas L. Friedman writes in his 2006 book "The World is Flat": "It is hard to have an American national strategy … if people won't even acknowledge that there is an education gap emerging."
Barrett was quoted in Friedman's book: "We will hire the talent wherever it resides." Intel, Barrett said, can thrive as a company "even if we never hire another American."
Gary Funk, Florence
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