DEMOCRACY AND EDUCATION
By Manuel Cereijo
There appears to be a growing concensus that a high level of education is a necessary condition also for democracy. A high level of education presupposes that all citizens in democratic societies need more than minimal education. They need to develop an understanding of the essential concepts and the actual functioning of constitutional governments and of market economies.
The decisions which citizens in free societies are called upon to make in both their personal and political lives are replete with the ideas-and choices-of economics. A basic grounding in economics is essential, if they are to make sense of policies in print and on the airwaves and if they are to make intelligent choices in polling booths. Ignorance in today's world forms a prison from which citizens must be given the tools to escape.
Schools, to be sure, do have significant, if not sole, responsibility for providing students with a core of basic knowledge about social, political, and economic issues and for teaching them to think critically, listen with discernment and communicate honestly and effectively. Schools also bear responsibility for helping to provide students with the skills they need to function as citizens in democratic communities and in a market economy.
In this modern technological world, skills, education, and knowledge can be called human capital. Human capital differs from physical capital in three important ways. (1) Human capital can not be owned; (2) Human capital investments require a long time horizon;(3) Human capital generate the man-made brainpower industries. These are another basic reasons linking education, capitalism, and democracy. However, a college education is very expensive. Approximately from Kindergaten to a University degree a family expends some $180,000
While it may be true that not everyone needs sophisticated high-tech training, the technology is affecting many job categories not normally associated with high technology. For the foreseeable future, the economy will be driven at the leading edge by the strengths or weaknesses of the nation's high technology industries and by the ability of other industries to absorb new technologies. Both situations require a sustained infusion of resources into education of the young and reeducation of the work force.
Engineering education has become one of the main sources of long run sustainable competitive advantage for the United States. If one looks at the breakthrough firms of the 1990s, it is clear that there is a lot of productivity to be gotten tearing down traditional functional walls between areas such as R&D, design, manufacturing, or sales and by pushing decision making much farther down into the organization to cut layers of management hierarchy. But all of those actions, vital for democracy and capitalism, require a much better educated and skilled engineering and technical workforce. Retraining and professional development by industry is essential.
Today, the ascendant nations are masters not of land and material resources but of ideas and technologies. Electronics is the world's fastest-growing major industry. Computer software, a pure product of mind, is the chief source of added value in world commerce. The global network of telecommunications carries more valuable goods than all the world's supertankers. Today, wealth comes not to the conquerors of land but to the emancipators of mind.
The infrastructure that is really going to count in the future is not so much the physical infrastructure but the knowledge infrastructure, and as mentioned above, the engineering infrastructure. The government should be making the necessary investments in engineering education. Public technology, and public engineering education are vital for capitalism, democracy, freedom. The successful interplay of corporations and engineering education is critical to American industries.
A country's wealth is a more slippery sum than the spending power of its citizens or the reservoir of its resources. Wealth consists in assets that promise a future stream of income. This is a very important concept that unfortunately most Latin American nations do not practice. The flows of oil money, for example, do not become an enduring asset of a nation until they can be converted into a sock of remunerative capital-industries, ports, roads, airports, schools, and working skills-that can offer a future. A wealthy nation must be able to save as well as to consume. This is not a world anymore in which the gain of one nation can only come at the expense of another. All the world will benefit from the increase impotence of statism and socialism. This is the age of democracy, freedom, capitalism, individual and family.
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