KANE: A better bailout



Jonas Kane

As the soporific sweetness of tryptophan finally wears off and students dig in for the last few weeks of the semester, let’s hope they won’t be the only ones prioritizing education.

President-Elect Barack Obama has held a series of press conferences on the economy, and his transition thus far has mainly focused on that and the excitement swirling over his decision to name vanquished foe Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.

But what about the situation in Detroit? – No, not the one related to the incompetent auto industry. A report published last April by America’s Promise Alliance listed the Detroit City School District’s graduation rate at an appalling 24.9 percent. Philadelphia’s sits at a higher but still failing level of 49.6 percent.

The study reports that the nationwide graduation rate is about 70 percent. As to why that figure is so low, the disparity in graduation rates in metropolitan areas is such that students in suburban schools are often twice as likely to graduate as their urban counterparts.

Currently, the prevailing argument for the economy seems to be that we should bail out the Big Three and force them to adapt green market strategies that, as businesses, they should have been adapting anyway.

This does raise the question: Who exactly is going to be equipped to take on these jobs, and the other green jobs that the Obama administration is proposing to help create, when we have cities like Detroit, where 75 percent of kids do not have a high school education?

Green jobs will be an illusion in America without an educated work force to fill them.

Obama needs to start adding some substance to his mostly overlooked education proposals, chiefly creating universal preschool, increasing daycare programs, addressing dropout rates, increasing funding for math and science programs and addressing higher education.

Increasing overall funding and finding ways to keep the best teachers in classrooms clearly serve as necessities, but these five points stress areas that need immediate attention.

The first two points deal directly with families living near or below the poverty line. Reaching children at a young age is essential, as is ensuring that they have a safe environment in which to attend school and cultivate their learning.

Paul Krugman wrote an article on poverty last February, citing research from the American Association for the Advancement of Science that showed how poverty can “poison” the brain in early childhood, as the stress from such a lifestyle impairs neural development, particularly in language development and memory.

Facilitating access to childcare programs is one way the burden on working families can be decreased and the stress on parents and their developing children can be eased.

The last two points relate to how education should be approached at higher levels. Many of the new jobs being proposed for the green revolution require skills in the math and science fields, necessitating an influx of funding for teacher training and proper equipment.

It also, however, means thinking of new ways to approach higher learning.

I participated in a conference call in October with some of Obama’s policy advisers who laid out his college affordability plan, which provides students with a tax credit covering most of the costs of community or public college, with the requirement that students participate in community service.

This is a worthy idea, but he should additionally consider an avenue being pursued by Rep. Joe Sestak to tackle the wider educational spectrum of technical and vocational training, which are vital alternative means for equipping students with the tools to enter today’s workforce.

Higher education is certainly necessary, but Obama and other leaders should not limit their proposals to trying to funnel all students through college after high school. Some students thrive in alternative learning environments; increasing these opportunities benefits both them and businesses.

Dropout rates can only be improved if we reach children at young ages and teach them in the right ways as they get older because, in a globalized world, learning is something that simply cannot stop at a young age.

In Detroit, that will mean retraining autoworkers and finding new ways to motivate students.

All Americans deserve an equal opportunity to learn; whether or not they get it will help decide our economic future.


Jonas Kane is a junior English major from Harrisburg, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].