The education crisis myth
These facts were most recently corroborated in mind-boggling detail by the Senate testimony of Rochester Institute of Technology's Ron Hira. But, of course, they are nowhere to be found in the Times. That's not altogether shocking (even if it is offensive) -- the Times is a newspaper whose ombudsman recently challenged the very idea that the paper's journalists should actually fact-check statements made by its sources. It is also a newspaper that has helped construct a larger political and media consensus around what I've called both The Great Education Myth and the Neoliberal Bait-and-Switch.
These sleights of hand simply stipulate as unchallenged, unquestioned fact that all of our economic problems can be solved with better STEM education and more STEM graduates. The idea is that this educational improvement would fix the alleged problem of high-tech companies like Apple not being able to find enough STEM workers. This myth endures even though the data indisputably proves that there is no such dearth of STEM worker supply -- indeed, we are already producing more STEM graduates than the domestic economy can employ, meaning the only worker shortage that exists in America is a shortage of workers willing to toil at slave wages with no labor or human rights. But, alas, those facts don't matter because the Great Education Myth isn't about economic reality -- it is an instrument of propaganda designed to distract attention from the tax and trade policies that allow companies like Apple to make so much money off the current system of exploitation.
So that gets us back to the key question of whether the term "education" is effectively being redefined? In all of the elite media's stories about offshoring and the STEM "education crisis," does the term "education" no longer mean "learning a set of skills"? Does it in practice now mean American workers learning not new technological crafts, but learning to quietly accept the wage, labor and human rights standards of China -- the standards we thankfully improved after our own crushing Industrial Age a century ago? In short, does "education" now mean "teaching American workers to be subservient"?
The answer, almost certainly, is yes, because that's the only way that the media and political establishment's entire "education crisis" meme makes any logical sense.
The fact is, while our cash-starved schools would obviously benefit from more resources, and while better schools clearly couldn't hurt our society, there's no empirical, data-based reason to believe that improving our schools would reverse the trend of America losing high-tech jobs to slave-labor nations like China. Without a change in tax and tariff-free trade policies that economically incentivize companies like Apple to keep moving production to cheap labor havens overseas, the only "education" that will bring those jobs back is the kind that indoctrinates high-tech American workers to compete with Chinese workers by accepting the horrific labor conditions those Chinese workers experience. Based on the New York Time'’ own reporting on Apple, that means an education system in America that teaches our workers to simply accept being paid $17 a day, to work six days a week in 12-hour shifts and to live in crowded dormitories so that they can be stampeded into the factory at any hour of the day. It means, in short, an education system that tells Eric Saragoza to shut up and accept the employer's draconian demands.
Not surprisingly, the curriculum for this new education system is already being championed by the very political and media realms that originally constructed the Great Education Myth. In Congress, a group of senators is proposing to eliminate overtime protections for vast swaths of the America's high-tech workforce in the name of competing with China. In state legislatures, lawmakers are looking to weaken child labor statutes, also in the name of competition. And on the New York Times Op-Ed page, Thomas Friedman implies that Americans are lazy and declares that "average is over" and that “everyone needs to find their extra” -- elite-speak for the notion that Americans, who already log some of the longest workdays in the world and who are already among the planet's most productive laborers, must work even harder than they already do.
In beginning to construct this kind of pedagogy, our mandarins are not coincidentally promoting a key part of the educational ideology of their Chinese counterparts. No, not the part of that ideology that is focused on training high-tech workers -- the part that prioritizes obedience. Indeed, as my friend Michael Levy recounts in his terrific book Kosher Chinese, that educational method teaches Chinese workers never to question their station, demand basic rights or ask for better conditions.
That same ethos is now being proudly promoted here at home. Should we accept it — and the redefinition of “education” that comes with it — we may end up bringing a few jobs back, but we will have reversed the very labor, wage and environmental progress that once defined our basic concept of human rights — and America itself.
*It's important to note that the Times did eventually publish this follow-up piece to its original article about Apple and offshoring. The follow-up piece looks more closely at how Apple mistreats its workers in China, and that kind of scrutiny is certainly necessary and laudable. However, the fact that the Times made the decision to separate the later piece on labor rights from the earlier article on Apple's employment decisions implies that the two issues -- worker exploitation and offshoring -- are separate, when in fact they are inextricably intertwined. That kind of distinction is a real problem. Indeed, pretending that these two issues are wholly different topics (as Apple and other high-tech executives so often do) perpetuates the deceptive notion that exploitation is just a “liberal” feel-goody concern while business practices are more serious, dispassionate, non-ideological decisions. But only when these issues are looked at in aggregate will we be able to start having an honest debate about how globalization really works.
David Sirota is a best-selling author of the new book "Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now." He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.
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