Labor Day in the U.S., part I

If you haven’t sampled the blog of Walter Russell Mead, it is well worth a look. Today – Labor Day in the United States, and the unofficial end of summer – Mead’s blog includes a thoughtful set of reflections for American students as the new school year begins.

Here is one key excerpt that caught my attention. In this excerpt, Mead is addressing America’s next generation:

Your competition isn’t sitting in the next library carrel. Your competition is in China and India – and your competition isn’t hanging out at frat parties or sitting around watching sitcoms with dorm-mates ….

Your competition is working hard … and is deadly serious about learning. There’s nothing written in the stars that guarantees Americans a higher standard of living than other people. Those of you who spend your college years goofing off in the traditional American way are going to pay a much higher price for this than you think.

For those of you reading this elsewhere, please indulge a bit of American introspection. As a former university professor, I know well the U.S. adolescent culture that Mead is describing. Too many young adults today exist in an “entitlement culture” that does not serve them or their country well. Their attitude is that “seat time” (i.e. attendance with minimal expectations for performance) at university should lead to a credential which should automatically lead to a good job. For more on this culture, see the recent book Academically Adrift by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa.

Educational reform without cultural reform will never work. Unless American students embrace a culture of high achievement, this country will slip farther in international competitiveness, and deservedly so. Economic stagnation could lead to greater social instability in this country and additional strain on our institutions of government.

*** Did you like what you read here? You might be interested in the new book by this blog’s author, Failed States: Realities, Risks, and Responses.

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