In the face of increased economic competition from other nations, the first rumblings about the need for education reform are being heard among the chattering classes on American cable TV.
But simple questions oft require complicated answers. Everything from bruises to visas enter in the problem set and the corresponding solution set.
In the 1950s, management guru Douglas MacGregor came up with his theory X and theory Y, first in a paper of that title and later in his book "The Human Side of Enterprise." The old industrial engineering and punishment/reward approach was contrasted with making jobs more varied and more interesting with the workers having some say in the nature of their work activity.
Those of us who were charged with instituting the new theory Y ended up grumbling that "theory X works." Similarly, the rigid discipline and regimentation of education as practiced in the 1950s and earlier was replaced with a more friendly approach. Education theories grew like dandelions in the field.
The "whole language" approach to teaching reading was the most notorious aberration. Dedicated reading teachers hid their old style texts and materials like a persecuted minority religion.
Whole language fell into disrepute, but many of the other elements of touchy feely education persist to this day. And the bureaucratic overhead dumped on the teachers continues to expand. Does a child have a small bruise? Contact the parents and make sure that it was incurred in rough and tumble play.
Don't play dodge ball at recess, that teaches aggressiveness. Don't give a weeping kindergarteners a comforting hug. That might be interpreted as sexual harassment.
But the teachers themselves are, as a body, guilty of many of the problems. When I went to school the teachers were there every day. There weren't any wasteful in service days. Yet my aunt managed to simultaneously teach a grade and be principal of an elementary school in Ohio that had astronaut Neil Armstrong as one of her pupils. He didn't turn out so bad.
At the secondary level both the high schools and the catalogs are too big. The principal of the school should be able to know every child by name and by educability. And the course selection is ridiculous.
Flower arrangement and weight lifting are not academic subjects. At the college level, my descendants have had the opportunity to study horseback riding and fly fishing. There should be no room for such frippery.
For many professional career paths, the required courses make no sense. Does a speech therapist need college level mathematics? Of what use to a physical therapist is a required course in botany? We are not educating well rounded upper-class gentle-people any more. And degree inflation is rampant. In the physical therapy field a doctorate is now required. Nurse practitioners may soon be required to graduate with a doctorate.
When I was a manager of programmers back in the 1960s, there was a perpetual shortage of programmers skilled in the business languages of COBOL and RPG. In part, this was the fault of the college computer science professors, who turned up their noses at such uninteresting tools.
Businesses refused to provide entry level positions. Everybody wanted 18 months experience, but nobody was willing to provide that entry level experience. The shortage was self-inflicted.
Today, college students shy away from high technology career paths. All the entry level positions are filled with low salaried foreigners here on H1B visas. India is smart enough to provide a kind of service academy, a free school for the best and the brightest in high tech fields. We aren't that smart.
There are consultants who show businesses how to restructure their positions so that only low paid H1B visa holders can fill them. Greed supplants patriotism.
In education, we must distinguish between nice to have and have to have. We must make high tech positions available to Americans again. We need a national high tech academy, with selection strictly on merit. We need to substitute cheaper e-texts for the ridiculously expensive full color books we have today.
Most of all, we need to take education seriously once again.