Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

THE LAST WORD: Education; Fault Line or Bridge?

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

THE LAST WORD: Education; Fault Line or Bridge?

Article excerpt

THE LAST WORD: Education; Fault Line or Bridge?.

My grandfather just barely got out of grade school. My stepfather, who raised me, dropped out right before he got his high school diploma. I was the first person in my direct line to graduate from college.

And if it hadn't been for my education and the gifts that others gave me along the way to help me with it, I never would have become president.

I now know that there is something fundamentally different about the role of education now than at any other time in our history. Throughout our history, education has given individuals more opportunity. When we made a commitment to mass education after World War II, including making college education available to veterans who served through the G.I. Bill, it helped to build an enormous middle class and to lift this country up -- all of us.

Now, we're in a third stage where education can either be the fault line dividing our country or the bridge by which we all walk into the 21st century. Because now it is not enough, as it was 50 years ago, or even 30 years ago, to have a large number of people with a college education creating economic opportunities for everybody else in a mass-production, industrial society.

Economic Division

For at least the last 15 years, our country has become more stratified, more unequal, divided more than anything else by the level of education of adults in the workforce. So you have this paradoxical situation where we've been able to...see our country produce nearly 10 million new jobs [but]...about half of the American workforce has not gotten a raise after you adjust for inflation. And compared to 15 years ago, the people in the bottom half are basically working a longer work week, having less time to spend with their children and not really keeping up with inflation.

There are exceptions to these statements, but the general rule still holds. The fundamental problem is that in a global economy, where we're all competing with everybody else everywhere else -- we have to raise the skill levels of our people. Education has to become more democratic -- small "d" -- democratic, more widely available and more advanced than ever before. It must.

And that is what has driven the work to try to lift the quality and standards of education, [and] make it more broadly available. …

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