Brooks: the vigorous virtues

In the middle of his column today, ?David Brooks drops in this little nugget:

The United States became the wealthiest nation on earth primarily because Americans were the best educated. ?That advantage has entirely eroded over the past 30 years.

Though the ?advantage? he is referring to here is most likely the economic one, there is no doubt that Brooks sees the strong connection between the nation's economic and educational health ? and it should not be too much of a stretch (or putting words in his mouth) to say that the thirty-year erosion applies to our education system as well.? Brooks might also have added that they (our early 20th-century American educator ancestors) created the world's most educated people by educating lots of poor kids.? In Henry Luce's phrase the ?last century was ?the American century? and as Brooks might have said, it's because our educators were predominantly no-nonsense on at least this point: that we get wealthy by educating the poor, we don't get educated by making the poor wealthy.

Brooks's larger point here is positive -- and slightly different than the one Mike makes in his When public education's two Ps disagree (which is to stop thinking parents ?are dummies for liking their schools the way they are?). But they share the same common sense suggestion:? that we can't and shouldn't govern from the fringes.? Says Brooks,

It will take an active government to reverse this stagnation ? from prenatal and early childhood education straight up through adult technical training and investments in scientific and other research. If government is ?inconsequential? in this sphere, then continued American decline is inevitable.

We can -- and will -- argue for a long time about the exact role of government in fixing our public school system ? whether it's the feds, the states, the cities, or even local school boards ? but just as we will need an ?instigator state? to to help ?ward off national decline,? as Brooks says, we will need all hands, including those who work for government agencies, on deck to help restore the vigorous virtues to our public school system.

So, on this Labor Day weekend, let us give some nod of appreciation to those who have worked -- and worked hard -- to give us a great education system. And let's also encourage those now toiling to keep the faith -- and keep on working!

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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