Sunday, April 03, 2005

The World Is Flat

Tom Friedman previews his new book, The World Is Flat, in the the New York Times Sunday Magazine. I read this article, and realized how lucky we are to have people like Friedman who can think on such a grand level and articulate that thinking so persuasively. I also realized that, instead of international relations and history, maybe I should have taken math and science courses a little more seriously in high school so I could have majored in engineering at Penn State. As Friedman writes:

"These are some of the reasons that Bill Gates, the Microsoft chairman, warned the governors' conference in a Feb. 26 speech that American high-school education is ''obsolete.'' As Gates put it: ''When I compare our high schools to what I see when I'm traveling abroad, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow. In math and science, our fourth graders are among the top students in the world. By eighth grade, they're in the middle of the pack. By 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring near the bottom of all industrialized nations. . . . The percentage of a population with a college degree is important, but so are sheer numbers. In 2001, India graduated almost a million more students from college than the United States did. China graduates twice as many students with bachelor's degrees as the U.S., and they have six times as many graduates majoring in engineering. In the international competition to have the biggest and best supply of knowledge workers, America is falling behind.''

We need to get going immediately. It takes 15 years to train a good engineer, because, ladies and gentlemen, this really is rocket science. So parents, throw away the Game Boy, turn off the television and get your kids to work. There is no sugar-coating this: in a flat world, every individual is going to have to run a little faster if he or she wants to advance his or her standard of living. When I was growing up, my parents used to say to me, ''Tom, finish your dinner -- people in China are starving.'' But after sailing to the edges of the flat world for a year, I am now telling my own daughters, ''Girls, finish your homework -- people in China and India are starving for your jobs.''

Well, in my case, hindsight is always 20/20. Engineering or not, I'm happy studying what I'm studying. Maybe I can take what I've learned in the classroom and on mine own time and mix it with some good ol' American ingenuity and create that "next big thing." Why not? But I also need to be realistic and look to my strengths. I can read people like Friedman so I can better understand the world and, in a way, take the torch from him and continue to advocate those ideas in the years ahead. I can use the power of the pen (or, now, the keyboard) and argue in favor of the conditions that enable that American ingenuity to reach its full potential. I can raise my kids to take up math and science and learn Mandarin Chinese. Who knows! It's so exciting to think about the possibilities in front us, but, at the same time, it's also going to be a pretty daunting challenge. The question is if we - especially my generation - are going to be up to the challenge.


Blogger Joe said...

A good book to read is "Who Killed Homer" by Victor Davis Hanson which addresses college education. If I were advising a young person on where to go to school I would suggest looking at St. Johns College in Annapolis. It is better to read original works rather than interpretations. For instance, if I were studying Astronomy I would read Keppler and Galileo rather than an Astro 101 book.

1:17 AM  
Blogger Matt said...

I totally agree. Actually Penn State doesn't do too bad a job of this. For our international relations classes, Thucidydes and Kant are required readings, along with a bunch of other IR theorists - old and new.

9:01 AM  

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