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July 30, 2008

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Tim, there is a big difference between new graduates who enter the workforce and have to learn everything from scratch and workers who have many years of experience. The new workers assume they have to learn and companies assume they have to teach them.

The problem is that once these workers are trained, they usually lose the incentive to keep learning new skills and companies lose the incentive to keep training them -- because it is cheaper to train fresh recruits. This is particularly so in the technology sector.

What I am saying about workforce development is that we need to keep training our workforce in new skills and provide the incentives for these workers to received this training. This is even more necessary in a rapidly globalizing world in which many types of jobs are going overseas or disappearing altogether.

Bottom line: Everyone needs to keep learning. And math and science are great, but don't make as much difference as is hyped.

By the way, I don't agree about the "dangerous state of public education". Yes, American education can and should be improved, but we have the best system in the world. The real problem is that we are not providing the same level of education to minorities and disadvantaged groups as we are to the majority. We need to focus on this crowd first -- that will make the biggest difference. Why? because having no education almost always leads to failure. Having more education doesn't always lead to success. Let's focus on bringing these people up to a decent level and then raise the bar for everyone rather than just focusing on those that already have good education to start with.

Tim,

I am the creator and Executive Producer of the documentary Two Million Minutes. For full disclosure, you might also want your readers to know that I served on the Board of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and on the Board of the Foundation's former Center For Entrepreneurial Leadership during the 1990's.

I would encourage you to actually watch my film before blogging a critique.

I'd like to know more about your experience that tells you "Vivek is right" - recent experiences in India or China - either in business or K-12 education.

One question for you: if "soft skills are the key to workforce success", how do you explain America's $1.5 TRILLION trade deficit with China? The US has not had a positive trade balance with China since Mao.

Or the nearly $100 Billion trade deficit with India?

Or the fact that China is the second largest lender to the US (holding $150 billion in Treasury securities), just behind that other hard skill nation - Japan?

The "hard skill" Chinese are our supplier of goods and our banker. Their economy has expanded dramatically since Deng Xiaoping said "getting rich is good" and since reopening the universities in 1977 after the Cultural Revolution.

Just 30 years from economic stagnation and population starvation to be the third largest economy in the world. Not bad for a population that you believe lacks the "soft skills" that are "key to workforce success".

I agree with your five final bullet points, but I believe the level of "hard skill" erosion in the US education system is vastly more severe than you believe.

And I see plenty of "soft skills" in the more than 400 Indian and Chinese engineers who work at my companies.

As a result of my own observations and global business experience, I think our children's generation faces serious economic challenges - on the scale Detroit is now witnessing - and that we do our kids a disservice by not telling them about the competition they will face and by not helping them prepare.

Tim -

It is disappointing to note that you have not yet seen the documentary, but profess to know what the film is about. Someone with your background in 'education research' should at least watch the complete documentary before posting.

Just to clarify - the documentary film is about "high school education" experience and comparison of that process in India, China and US.

Mr. Wadhwa's research is on "workforce development" in INDIA. His paper has no specific recommendations on workforce development in US - other than a broad recommendation "invest more in training".

Great comments all, thank you!

Vivek, I think you are right in this sense: alarmism is often overdone and misses the strengths of the traditional U.S. approach to education and culture. But I also think it is beyond dispute that U.S. schools are failing inner city kids.

Bob and Suresh, I will watch the movie. I didn't mean the post to be a movie review -- rather using Vivek's sharp essay as a launching point to the topic in general. More to the point, I believe that I am agreeing with you that the U.S. could do a much better job of teaching science and math. My two cents is that the way to get to a world where science and math are taught really, really way to American students is through a competitive education market (school choice, teacher choice, charters, vouchers) not through a command and control education bureaucracy.

Here's my promise: I'll watch the movie and write a post about it alone.

For those questioning my creds to discuss this issue, that's a fair question. I'm a child of the public education system (all my degrees are from public schools). I've spent a few years teaching college students, and more years working on public policy issues focusing on poverty and economic development. But the biggest qualification I have is one I share with hundreds of millions of Americans: I have children. My wife is Japanese, so I get a daily does of her approach (which works) to drilling math skills. And I'm a teensy bit obsessed with this topic because our oldest child starts his two million minutes in a few weeks ...

I find your invocation of competition immediately following praising classroom discipline, teacher excellence, and personal responsibility... weird. All three of these things, it seems to me, demonstrate the limits of competition, not the benefits. All three-- certainly the first and the last-- are values that can really only exist individually, according to some sense of absolute value, rather than relative value, which is what competition creates. That to me is the problem with assuming that competition is the panacea to solve all of our educational problems (I'm not suggesting you think that way, just that many do.) Competition generally can't create a sense of personal growth or moral and ethical worth; it can only create the notion of being better or worse than other people. It removes personal achievement from any sense of real moral value.

I worked for awhile in a public high school, and the last thing I would say about the juniors and seniors was that they weren't competitive enough. Indeed, I'd say that the mad dash to get into the most competitive colleges created a mercenary, win-at-all-costs culture, rampant oneupmanship and genuine distrust among peers. And the students would constantly cut corners, grade grub or cheat, every time excusing the behavior because it was just so hard to get into college. The college competition, one of the most fiercely fought and most bitter, doesn't improve a student's worth as a student. It just compels him to become better at working the system and playing the game.

Have a look at Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind, in which "soft skills" are presented in terms of right-brain thinking.

I am a high school teacher and this debate is central to what I am trying to do. We are forced to test hard skills, and the soft skills, which may be more important and should include non creative traits like perseverance, politeness, promptness, following directions, attention to details, are ignored in favor of "hard teaching" or teaching to the test. The Heckman article "Schools, Skills, Synapses" gets to heart of what I see day to day: the failing American domestic situation destroys soft skills, and a student's ability to get it together to acquire needed hard skills.

In terms of the competition angle--I teach Juniors and Seniors, and they are so blase about competition now because they inherently know that they will get by somehow, in Community College, or whatever. Aside from the Ivy go getters, most of my students are more interested in social/myspace type competition than anything concrete for the economy or their own future. To me this is the downside of the lack of balance in soft skill formation, and does not necessarily foster a positive sense of useful creativity.

Soft skills are great. But lets look at some "Money where your mouth is" criteria.

Go look at the pay by college major. I see the hard skills majors getting paid a lot more and having a lot more job offers than the soft-skills majors.

Lesson: sure, it's great to have engineers with great soft skills. But it's more important to have engineers rather than mass comm majors.

Mike,

But I see the elites in "soft skills" majors being paid far higher than those in "hard skill" major. The earning potential for somebody very strong in soft skills such as creativity is far, far higher than somebody who rigidly adheres to hard skills. Creativity and independence are the backbone of entrepreneurship and they have driven the American economy.

Creativity and independence are the back bone of entrepreneurship, but a company made up entirely of creative, independent people who don't understand math or science would not survive.

It is crucial to an economy to have a large base of "hard skill" educated people - people who can run product development, manufacturing, logistics, customer support, finance, etc.

Why has America lost the hard skill focus it had during WWII and after Sputnik, because hard skills are...well, hard.

We have our largest trade deficits with "hard skill" nations - with the exception of the natural resource countries.

Can anyone name the countries with which we have a trade surplus?

Our individual futures, as well as the future of our nation, will be strongly influenced by our understanding of the power of values for good or bad, and what we can do to nurture the right ones in ourselves and in others - in family life, in our schools, in political leadership, in the administration of justice, in domestic and international business, and in other aspects of our daily lives.

In addition to thoroughly documenting the problems that have been created by a moral decline in America, my book, AMERICAN VALUES DECLINE: WHAT WE CAN DO, presents some 30, on-going, successful interventions and programs for dealing with them.

It presents compelling evidence as to why certain values are more productive than others - for us as individuals, and for society as a whole. It shows how these values have made the U.S. great, and how they are compatible with the rules for productive living of most of the religions of the world. In addition, it shows how they are shaped from birth by both heredity and environment - for good or bad - and what we can do to enhance or negate these effects.

About it, Cindy Penn, of THE MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW, writes that "William Fox's extraordinary book...is a must read for every American...I found myself quickly caught up in Fox's prose as he lays out the historical and cultural ramifications of values. His examples are thought provoking ideas that quickly inspired me to consider my own situation, family and work world."

Carolyn Fouts, Ph.D., LMHC, states that "This is an extrraordinary book...a trumpet call to individuals who professionally interact with clients of all ages."

Larry Moore, of the FBI LAW ENFORCEMENT BULLETIN, asserts that "All members at all levels in the criminal justice system should read this book because it offers a very frank approach to many of the problems that American society faces today."

Marc, of BOOKREVIEW CAFE, states that "Anyone who cares about our Western society should read this book,"

and Dr. Clarence Boonstra, retired Career Minister, U.S. Department of State, claims this to be "A very good handbook for compassionate conservatives."

AMERICAN VALUES DECLINE: WHAT WE CAN DO (a 438 page paperback - ISBN 1-59453-518-3 - published in 2005) may be obtained new or second-hand from Amazon.com, or in ebook form from Mobipocket.com for $9.

William Fox
Professor Emeritus,
University of Florida
gryfox@bellsouth.net
(352) 376-9786

I LUVS PUBLICS SCHOOOLZ. WE AMERICAN HAVE MANY FINEEE EDUCTATIONS AND WOMENz ARE OFF THE HOOKZ. NO WAY IS A foREIGNER SMARTER THAN US! WE ARE AMERICA AND WE NEVer goING TO BE POOR! CAUSE WE WILL BLOW STUFF UP AND FIND OUTHER COUNTRY GOLD

LOVe,
PRESIDENT BUSH

when i read this article on mar 30,2009..i do believe ur americans need soft skill as our nation does...

so im going to laugh the "Stu Pidazzle | March 07, 2009 at 03:43 PM "..coz he said your american never go to get poor!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! thus.in this year, are you poor and still rich?????????

i think u should get the lesson now!!!!!

I agree with your five final bullet points, but I believe the level of "hard skill" erosion in the US education system is vastly more severe than you believe.

The comments seem to be talking all around the question but not addressing the heart of the entreprenurial debate. The issue should be: How to get state capital around the financial logjam and into the hands of the entrepreneur.

There needs to be a balance. Hard skills are important. So are so-called soft skills. Jaime Escalante, the great teacher, and storytellers, almost any successful person, will tell you what's needed: desire, belief in oneself, discipline, hard work, and drive. We need to foster these attributes in students so they can become self-actualized adults.

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There needs to be a balance. Hard skills are important. So are so-called soft skills. Jaime Escalante, the great teacher, and storytellers, almost any successful person, will tell you what's needed: desire, belief in oneself, discipline, hard work, and drive. We need to foster these attributes in students so they can become self-actualized adults.

Go look at the pay by college major. I see the hard skills majors getting paid a lot more and having a lot more job offers than the soft-skills majors.

Lesson: sure, it's great to have engineers with great soft skills. But it's more important to have engineers rather than mass comm majors.

needed: desire, belief in oneself, discipline, hard work, and drive.

and Dr. Clarence Boonstra, retired Career Minister, U.S. Department of State, claims this to be "A very good handbook for compassionate

Today the US was virtually the lone dissenter as the UN Human Rights Council was voted into being to replace the body's discredited Human Rights Commission. We've had plenty of posts here on the issues surrounding the composition and credibility of the Council.

Life being very short, and the quiet hour of it few; we ought to waste none of them in reading valueless books.

I guess the point is to give and save as much as you can and make your money work for you like the good servant we should strive to be.

Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about information and love learning more on this. If possible, as you gain expertise, It is extremely helpful for me. would you mind updating your blog with more information

Il ne fait aucun doute que votre blog est spécifique, j'ai appris beaucoup de vous. Votre blog est une information très utile sur les choses pour nous. Je vous souhaite heureuse tous les jours! C'est génial! J'aime mon plancher de bois franc:).

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