Sunday, October 25, 2009

I Am Sick and Tired of People Complaining About Our Educational System

Thomas Friedman has an op-ed entitled The New Untouchables. He states that the decline of our educational system is to blame for our troubles. His op-ed is based on that fallacy. The reason our educational system has declined is because our local and county governments gave property tax breaks and other concessions to companies to attract jobs to their areas. Our business leaders negotiated all these tax exemptions for themselves and then have the chutzpah to declare that the school systems are not up to snuff when they were the ones responsible for lack of funding for the schools in the first place. University science and technology graduates have declined the last 20 years because it was easier and more lucrative to go to Business School than Engineering or Natural Sciences. Sales and management jobs don't tend to be either insourced (H1-B visa workers) or outsourced unlike engineering and science jobs. Therefore, the former professions' pay and career advancement don't suffer unlike the tech workers. The latter two schools had to accept more graduate students from overseas to keep up enrollments, and the majority of those graduates with advanced degrees stay in the United States because there are no jobs for them back home. I have a doctorate and I made $25,000/year for my first postdoc in Los Angeles. I was 32 years old. I was trying to get out of debt and live on $25K a year. It was hard, but I managed. It took me ten years to pay off my graduate student loans and my Mother insisted that she pay for my undergraduate loans for which I was grateful to her. I eventually had to leave my Science career and start over. It was the most painful decision I ever had to make. However, I earned more my first year in computer tech support than I ever made as a scientist. How insane is that?

The pay for postdocs has gotten better in recent years, but the problem of career advancement remains. There are too many people competing for too few jobs because the universities need the cheap graduate student labor to keep research and development costs down. That is why the universities howled when the student visa program was changed after 9/11. Businesses are no better. I was mandated to take 40 hours training per year at my last job. My performance review depended upon it as did a professional certification. Yet, my managers seldom ever let us use the new skills we learned to make our jobs easier. They certainly didn't give us raises for getting more and better certifications in IT Security. In fact, the smarter young people generally got taken advantage of by management asking them to take on more tasks for the same amount of pay and sometimes less pay. Any suggestions we made to improve operations were either ignored or languished because they fell on the deaf ears of management. Now companies import H1-B visa workers because they are cheaper than American graduates to employ, or they outsource jobs to India or China because it's even cheaper. What do economic decisions such as insourcing or outsourcing do to an educational system's graduates and the educational system itself? When a job leaves the country, the tax income from that job is lost forever. Depressed wages lead to less tax income. It's a negative feedback loop. So, economic decisions made by businesses have ramifications beyond their business spreadsheets. If our so called political leaders don't have the backbones to say no to our so called business leaders when the latter try to extort concessions and subsidies from our governments, then the rest of us who are good taxpaying citizens suffer the consequences. If we haven't learned that lesson from the latest financial crisis, then we deserve the fate awaiting us because of our misguided economic beliefs, ignorance, and shortsightedness.

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