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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ricks Scott's goal, give our children a third world education

From the Palm Beach Post

by Mark Allen Peterson

Gov. Scott has declared that Florida doesn't need any more anthropologists and needs to cut back on psychologists and other social scientists as well. Oh, and Florida doesn't need humanities, either.

The governor is pushing a plan that would starve liberal arts and social sciences in the state's public universities, with the backing of the state Legislature's GOP majority. His rationale is that to create jobs, Florida needs rigorous programs in math, engineering, science and technology, like they have in India and China, so we can stay competitive.

Which makes me realize that Gov. Scott doesn't know jack about how education and business work in India and China.

Let's look at India. There are two basic layers of education, public and private. Unlike the U.S., all the best schools are public, and they are paid for by the national government. To obtain this free education, one must pass a national exam, which includes not only quantitative and language measures, like the SAT or ACT in the U.S., but also a significant category called "General Knowledge."

To pass the general knowledge exam, most Indian students start reading newspapers at an early age. They read international literature, review art and follow politics. When I talk to students in engineering, math or chemistry, they can speak intelligently about problems facing the EU, the novels of Naguib Mahfouz or the influence of Gandhi on Martin Luther King.

The liberal arts core - humanities, social science and basic science - that Americans get in college is built into the exam system. Students go into college with their liberal arts already learned, then focus rigorously on a topic. These students often go on to become India's innovators and leaders in business and other ventures.

But the same is not true of the private schools popping up all over India. One enters these schools not by passing a rigorous national exam but by paying fees. Classes often are taught by experienced businessmen, engineers and laboratory scientists rather than Ph.Ds. These companies turn out specialists. But increasingly, Indian companies are realizing that they need only so many engineers who only know engineering.

"In India, it takes engineers two to three years to recover from the damage of the education system," one corporate executive told me. And students who can afford it often choose to get their degrees in the U.S.

Indian and Chinese companies value U.S. college degrees because students who come from the U.S. arrive not only with engineering and science knowledge but general creativity, problem solving, decisionmaking, persuasive arguing, and management skills.

How do I know all this? Because I am an anthropologist (one of those fields Florida needs less of), who has been studying globalization and media in India since 1992.

In addition to private funding agencies, the U.S. government has invested nearly $100,000 of your (and my) tax dollars in my research through the National Science Foundation. Because of this, I feel ethically indebted to share my findings with government officials like Gov. Scott, should any of them ever ask me - which they don't.

Business people ask me to consult sometimes, but never politicians. Why let facts get in the way of a rousing, provocative, common-sense approach to the state's jobs crisis?

But I've no beef with Gov. Scott, because once he finishes turning Florida's higher education into one more closely resembling those in the Third World, churning out engineers who know only engineering, and programmers who know only programming, we'll invite all the Chinese students and Indian students currently seeking better educations in Florida to come to Ohio, where we still have great science and engineering programs embedded in a liberal arts core.

And when they go back to India and China (or stay here) to become entrepreneurial leaders, they can hire cheap labor from Florida.

Mark Allen Peterson is professor of anthropology and international studies at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.

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