Thursday, September 13, 2007

John Edwards Promises a Universal Entitlement

Edwards in an interview with Charlie Rose:

" Yes, I believe we do. I think that we tend to think of education as K through 12, maybe college and in some rare cases, graduate school. We should think of education as a birth-to-death experience in America. That means we get the kids as early as we possibly can, we head start basically 3- to 4-year-olds. That's not young enough. We can start much earlier, much more intensely but particularly focus on at-risk kids. Better training for those who teach in early childhood, better health care and nutrition, support for those kids. I think that there's some very specific things we should do in K through 12 such as provide bonus pay—raise teacher pay, generally. Provide bonus pay to teachers that will go to the most difficult places. And we've got to I think dramatically change No Child Left Behind. I just talked about college. Let me go to the last element which is the one that I haven't heard of, there's talk about. We know if you graduate from college this year that the information you learned, a huge amount will be outdated in five or 10 years, we have to be the most creative, innovative, best educated work force on the planet, so we need an infrastructure for continuing education after high school, college, or graduate school, whichever is the last part of your formal education. So we continue to learn. Now, I wish I could tell you I have a specific proposal on this. I don't, not yet. But I do believe that because—basically it's ad hoc now. We leave it to individuals or their employers the enormous responsibility of ensuring that 45-year-old workers or 50-year-old workers in America are up-to-date and best trained, best educated they can possibly be and I think we have to develop a national infrastructure for making sure people continue to learn as they age."

The man positively scares me. Now, part of this is simply paranoia as Edwards does not come out and say he believes there needs to be a "birth-to-death" entitlement to education but he sure seems to be gesturing in that general direction. I do think there is a very compelling logic to expanding access to preschool as the earlier the intervention the more effective it is (sadly the converse is true as well and later interventions are largely worthless). But this notion that there needs to be some "national infrastructure for making sure people continue to learn as they age" is frightening to me. There are oodles of vocational and technological education providers, not to mention for-profit and online providers (think of University of Phoenix) and one of the vastly underrappreciated resources, your local community college, which often excels at providing courses in marketable skills. Having taken courses from pretty much every type of educational provider (both for-profit and non-profit) the quality of instruction can be quite high and it is certainly widely available thanks to these "internets". Some people refuse to undergo continuing education simply because they don't like learning. That's unfortunate but I don't understand how you can actually do anything to change their minds (apparently promotions, greater pay, better job security and that it is often that you don't actually have to go to work while training [read: boondoggle potential] are inadequate incentives). And to me it does seem appropriate that the onus for continuing education is placed on employers and the employees themselves, namely, the parties who derive an immediate benefit from their continued educational efforts.

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