Education is top-of-mind these days. For starters, last Friday I happened to be at a teacher meeting in Columbus, Ohio, and heard Obama’s Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, speak. Among other things, Duncan notes that there is $5 billion or so set aside in “stimulus funds” to launch pilot programs based upon educator “best practices,” and all schools are encouraged to chase the funds. (Are you listening SMMUSD?) What I liked best is Duncan’s sense of urgency. He wants major change during the First Term since there is no guarantee Obama will be re-elected. More importantly, the kids can’t wait. Each entering kindergartener is entitled to a great public education and that should create its own sense of extreme urgency. Right on!On the family front, the Quick’s are celebrating the graduation of our younger son from California State University Channel Islands. His is only the third class to graduate at the new campus. From my perspective it has been a great liberal arts education at a vibrant, young institution infused with fresh and enthusiastic faculty. California takes a lot of hits, but our public higher education institutions — community colleges, state universities, and the University of California — are world class and a bargain. Every student owes homage to the late Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown for his vision in essentially founding our statewide system of higher education.Now, when I was a student I had to not only walk through six feet of snow, but through historically high interest rates, to get my education. In fact, my sons have faced a couple of challenges not even on my radar. First, if you have not heard, for whatever reasons America’s males no longer matriculate to college. In 1960, 62 percent of college graduates were males. Last year, only 42 percent were males. The net effect is scary — my sons may become the first generation of Americans NOT better educated than their parents.A second impediment facing all students, indeed all of us, is what I call “award creep.” I recall hearing a couple of years ago then Junior Senator from Illinois Barack Obama on the weekly NPR comedy/game show, “Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me.” Obama was articulate and glib, and he seemed to go out of his way to note his disdain for his daughter’s “pre-school graduation ceremony,” which the Senator refused to attend. Halleluiah! I took exactly the same tack in the early Nineties with my sons’ pre-school graduations which I thought were ridiculous and demeaned the real achievements of high school and college diplomas. My concern (not necessarily Obama’s) is that as a society becomes less substantive in achievement, it tends to become more profligate in awards. (Indeed, entertainment industry award programs saluting mounds of pedestrian media pap have become so epidemic I have thought about pitching a TV award show that awards the best award shows.)So for all those graduating from high school, congratulations. Male or female, go on to college not just for its increased career earning power, but to open your mind and become the best citizen possible in our democracy. Special congratulations to the higher education graduates, America needs you in an increasingly competitive world. And for all the pre-high school level “graduates,” recall the Wizard of Oz where exposed as a con, the wizard regrouped by giving the Lion a Courage Award, and the scarecrow a diploma. Beware of wizards during the graduation season and keep your eye on the real prizes.
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