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[Susan notes: I'm very glad these two writers took the time to answer David Brook's misleading column. And the letters make a good pair, one appealing to the essence of education, the other to the essence of inequality.]

Published in New York Times
09/13/2006

To the editor

David Brooks’s Sept. 10 column, “Investing in Human Futures,” has surface appeal, especially as I am an educator and a passionate advocate for equal educational opportunity. How can one object to the idea that every child in every classroom have a college education?



But Mr. Brooks misses the elephant in the room as he riffs on the economic benefits to individuals and society. America — the world — needs plumbers, mechanics, shopkeepers, taxi drivers, firefighters, steelworkers, short-order cooks and checkout clerks. The “promise’’ of upward economic mobility is hollow, for in a functioning society and economy not everyone can be, wants to be or will be a doctor, a lawyer or an investment banker.



Real social progress requires fair compensation, health care and dignity for the millions of men and women who do all kinds of work.



Education, including college, should not be primarily high-priced vocational training. Education should prepare all children to lead meaningful, purposeful lives and equip each of us for thoughtful participation in civic life.



Viewing education as an investment in economic capital is both philosophically wrongheaded and an empty promise to boot.



Steven J. Nelson

New York, Sept. 10, 2006







To the Editor:



David Brooks, by diagnosing the cause of inequality as solely relating to skill deficits, comes up with an incomplete solution to the problem.



Globalization, declining unions and low minimum wages are widely agreed upon by economists as partly driving inequality upward. Mr. Brooks offers a set of ideas targeted at “building human capital.’’ But that’s only one part of the problem.



The other is that workers at all skill levels lack the needed bargaining power to claim their fair share of the growth they’re creating.



Also, only two of the 10 occupations predicted to add the most jobs over the next decade call for a college degree. Five of the top 10 call for short-term on-the-job training.



Workers in these jobs (retail sales, food prep), while surely better off with more skills, are unlikely to get ahead much unless we pay a lot more attention to the structural changes dismissed by Mr. Brooks.



Jared Bernstein

Senior Economist

Economic Policy Institute

Washington, Sept. 10, 2006



Steven J. Nelson and Jared Bernstein


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