by Iris Harrell
Whenever the subject of green arises, discussions seem to focus on conserving and leveraging our natural resources. Less waste, less consumption and less pollution should point us to being more productive longer with improved health and better protection and stewardship of our surrounding environment.
Our least discussed major resource in creating a state, country and world built to last is our human resources: our people, our human capital. And yet budget cutting in difficult economic times has cut at the heart of our biggest asset: the next generation. It is our children and youth who will inherit the leadership of this nation and world in very short order.
In an article on the Center for the Next Generation's "Too Small to Fail" program (The Almanac, Sept. 5, 2012), Matt James of Ladera eloquently stated that of the 72 million American kids under 18, 22.5 percent live in poverty and another 23 percent live in low-income housing. In addition to that statistic, he shared that 26 percent of our kids suffer chronic ill health from obesity, asthma, diabetes and attention-deficit disorder.
As a former public-school teacher and the first in my family to attend and complete college, I am painfully aware of the difference in quality of life and contribution to society one can make if a good education is achieved. I attended Mary Washington University in Virginia. My tuition was paid for by scholarships and student loans. It should be no surprise that I am the only one in my family who even believes that global warming exists and the sustainability of our planet is at risk. My family of origin is too busy trying to survive to ponder such issues.
If we continue to cut our state budgets for our public K-12 schools, we are severely hindering our own potential for success and our long-term future. As James writes, we must give ALL America's kids a world-class education and quality health care system, no matter what financial background they come from.
In world rankings in math achievement, the U.S. is 25th. In science, America ranks 17th among other nations of the world. In the U.S. there are 200,000 engineering jobs available annually, yet we are only graduating 60,000 students a year. (China and India each are respectively turning out 600,000 graduate engineers annually.) Science, technology, engineering and math jobs are shaping all other occupations and it is our people (our human resources) who desperately need to excel in these subjects. I add English speaking and writing skills, as the other vital knowledge our kids need, because clear and thoughtful communication is what promotes peaceful progress in this world.
Columnist Thomas Friedman recently wrote that lower-skilled blue-collar jobs are being wiped out quickly by technology and globalization, which means the skill level for 21st-century jobs is steadily rising. His point is that in addition to learning the critical subjects early in life (including programming computers), post-secondary education and lifelong learning are critical to our future success. Futurist Alvin Toffler gives an expanded definition to illiteracy. Rather than just reading and writing, illiteracy will be further defined by those who cannot learn, and then relearn, as our world keeps quickly changing.
As the job market starts to improve, American companies will be looking for qualified employees who are "ready now." If almost half (45.5 percent from poverty and low income) of our human resources are not "ready now" due to unfortunate circumstances and misplaced priorities of our nation, corporations will hire new employees from elsewhere in the world who are "ready now." This is why investing heavily in our human-resource development with better public schools, more community colleges, Pell grants and continuous vocational training is critically important.
Undersecretary of Education Martha Kantor visited Silicon Valley recently to speak about why better education of all Americans is imperative for our nation's success. She shared projections of educational requirements for jobs in 2018 that indicate 52 percent of all jobs will require some college, an associate degree or bachelor's degree. As of 2008, only 41 percent of America's young-adult population (ages 25-30) had post-secondary education.
When will we make human-resource development our top green priority? Besides training our youth in strategic skills to be able to meet society's next challenges, we need to prepare them to create services and products that can benefit society without harming the environment. Americans have a strong penchant for inventing and creating new ideas that have transformed the world: electricity, automobiles, computers, cell phones, the Internet.
If we intend to accomplish this human-resource development, we need to have our disadvantaged kids coming to school with some of their basic needs met (Maslow's hierarchy of needs — shelter, food, rest, safety and self-esteem). Is it not the responsibility of our society to help ALL of the next generation find their life's purpose to help meet their future prepared? Their future is our future.