I thought Harold Salzman of the Urban Institute did some significant backpedaling today, conceding most points his rhetorical opponents were making.
Salzman's view: the education situation may be dire, concerning, but it's not apocalyptic. Kids today know a lot more about computers than did kids thirty years ago. Compared to where we were, we're not all that different, on average -- never mind where the rest of the world is going, that's not what this study was about. "If my son or daughter is as informed and aware as I was, when I was his or her age, then things can't really be that bad" seems to be the attitude here. A semi-static picture should be no cause for alarm.
Yes, the cream of the crop is still pretty creamy, and given the intellectual squalor in which we live, there's really not that much demand for even more engineers, not counting those in the destruction business, of which there's a severe shortage right now (hence Stop-Loss). Destructive engineering is still a bonanza source of family wage jobs, thanks to myopic policymakers. Cruise missiles R Us.
Those disillusioned would-be design scientists might be more in demand in some other, more futuristic civilization, some parallel universe, one in which World Game was actually mentioned out loud (gasp!). Indeed, lack of hope in the future was cited as a major reason for students getting turned off, abandoning their hopes and dreams i.e. all that homework to what end, given global warming and the impending economic downturn? Fear over longing, once again (an old story).
So what's this Urban Institute anyway? Mostly middle of the road liberal types, of the kind who lost the War on Poverty, got us mixed up in Vietnam?
I liked Intel's Craig R. Barrett's thinking better: if we don't shape up, USAers will get creamed in the global jobs market. I think that's correct, but in the backs of their minds, some so-called liberals still just knee-jerk assume we'll have to write off the less privileged as unsalvageable. They then sugar coat their thinly disguised Malthusianism in various bureaucratic policymaking voices, like FEMA does when talking about those post-Katrina toxic trailers: all blather, and no action, because the mindset between the ears is quite broken.
Let's talk about "mental poverty" for a change, and acknowledge it might come dressed up in a suit and carry a briefcase, with fancy degrees and all the rest of it. Losers come in all stripes, don't they?