Teach your children well

Posted: Friday, July 27, 2007

As U.S. citizens, we have access to the best resources in the world. There is no reason why we can't have the most well-educated students. The only thing holding us back is ourselves and the decisions we make.

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Out there in the murky depths of the international economy, America's competitive edge is getting a work out. For us to remain competitive in the future, we're going to need the best, most well-educated students in the world. It all comes back to education.

It doesn't take an economics degree to see the problem. If the U.S. continues to purchase goods and services from everyone else, but no one buys goods or services from us, then eventually we'll go broke. There is cause for concern. Take consumer electronics, for instance. There are no longer any television sets manufactured in the United States.

Some people are afraid that China will "foreclose" on our national debt, and in 50 years we'll all be speaking Chinese. Others are fearful that jihad-prone Islamists will succeed in establishing their world Islamic state and in 50 years we'll all be speaking Arabic. Other folks are more worried that Mexicans and Latin Americans will overrun our borders and in 50 years we'll all be speaking Spanish.

Let's squash all those fears! Teach our kids Mandarin and Arabic and Spanish, right now! Let's equip our kids with the skills and tools they need to compete in the international marketplace. We either have or can get the resources necessary, and we can put these resources to work training our kids. The only thing stopping us is the decisions we make.

We need to train an army of diplomats and international trade strategists. We need to do this in our public schools, and we need to supplement the instruction provided to our kids by our public schools with additional instruction at home. Sounds like a drag if the whole family is ready to settle into a few hours of sitcoms, but that's tough. Complacency is part of the problem.

We can't just throw kids into the K-12 system and expect it to spit out college-bound young adults, fully formed. Neither can most families brook the cost of full-time homeschooling. It has to be both. If parents are at all concerned with their children's education, they need to play an active role in it.

And that includes taking part in educational reform. There are some serious problems with public education. The No Child Left Behind program, with its eroded standards, has become Oops, All The Children Are Now Behind.

Maybe what we need is Sorry, Some Children Might Get Left Behind. We need to challenge our best and brightest kids, because those will be the ones who will one day save our butts. And while we're at it, we need to reward ambition, fortitude and perseverance. Everybody doesn't win. What game is there where everybody wins? China isn't going to give us a ribbon for participating.

The only thing No Child Left Behind succeeds at is in placing the blame for incompetent high school graduates and dropouts squarely on the shoulders of the schools. Previously, the cause of such problems was apportioned more evenly among teachers, parents, administrators, politicians and even the kids themselves.

Hire good teachers and good instructors. Start paying them a living wage. Fire the bad ones, the incompetent ones. Just keep them away from the kids.

There's no reason why America can't enjoy a new golden age in the 21st century. We don't need to take on the role of international thug or abandon compassion to bring this about. We need to conduct our affairs with intelligence, as the most well- trained people on the planet. We can lead by example. All we have to do is make the right decisions.

• Derrick Snyder is a chef and instructor living in Juneau.

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