You know that stereotypical happy jock character in popular culture? This kid, we'll call him Brad, was the king of high school. He was confident and nice and a bit incorrigible, did mediocre in class but amazingly well on the football field.
Teachers always forgave Brad his transgressions because he was just so damn charming and funny. His main goals were playing a sport, dating girls, and getting drunk with his friends. He was all about having fun and enjoying himself. Brad sounds like a pretty cool dude, right?
But then, as high school came to an end, Brad didn't really have much direction. Most of the kids who spent high school working hard and studying went off to great colleges, but Brad's grades left him no choice but a community college.
Perhaps Brad quickly realized that he should put some effort into his education, right? No, he partied too much to actually learn anything, and didn't really get why he needed to take all those "dumb liberal arts" courses. Brad ended up dropping out and getting a low-wage job, maybe as a salesman in a sporting goods store or a similar position that requires charisma but not skill.
Perhaps Brad worked really hard at this job and quickly advanced, right? No, Brad didn't really want any responsibility, and, anyway, he didn't really get how to use the computer system and didn't want to learn. He spent his free time hanging around, watching TV and amassing a pretty amazing empty beer bottle collection. But man, did he have some fun times.
All the nerds coming home from college--and eventually from their high-earning jobs--kind of felt bad for him. All the confidence he had that his charisma would get him by, that he could continue to float on the good feelings people had about him, have finally bitten him in the ass, and he didn't even know it.
Those kids, the ones who worked really hard in high school and college, went on to get jobs creating new software platforms, launching companies that change the way people do business, researching how to cure diseases, or being Steve Jobs.
But what happened to Brad?
Sometimes, I feel like America is Brad, with India and China looking at us with pity as their stringent academic standards allow their citizens to take over all the high-tech jobs. America had such potential after World War II, full of booming factories and a great education system. But in the intervening decades, the country has gone from sweet high school jock to over-confident college drop-out.
Our academic standards are slipping, with some school districts tightening their belts and meeting budgets by shortening the school week. Forget not getting new books, or cramming too many kids in a room. There are schools where kids are losing entire DAYS.
If we truly allow the education of our children to become such a low priority that days begin to fall off the calendar, that we'd rather invest in less taxes than a population that can find their country on a map, we're going to go from that over-confident yet low-paid college dropout to an illiterate migrant worker...working on Chinese and Indian farms.