One of my participants in

by francine Hardaway on September 29, 2004

One of my participants in Fasttrac New Venture, our incubation and entrepreneurial training program, is starting a business based upon correcting the financial illiteracy of teen-agers. He says the average teen-ager has a disposable “income” of $480 per month. Without financial literacy, that same teenager will have a real problem living on her own once the parental dole is cut off. It can be a cruel shock to find out how much things cost in the adult world, as most of the baby boomerangers, those kids who move out of their parents’ homes and then move back in, already know.

This morning, I read an article in Business Week about the new (female) president of MIT, who was talking about how we are no longer educating our children adequately in math and science. Math and science, of course, are the underpinnings of financial literacy.

I have read this perspective many times before, along with talk about how we are losing our competitive advantage in the world as a result of our failure to develop young mathematicians and scientists (or even writers and readers).

Craig Barrett has also spoken about this, commenting that China is a fertile market for Intel now, but will be a competitor in the technology industry within a short period of time. Indeed, with China’s lack of respect for intellectual property, they are “competing” with us right now.

But what the leaders of American education and business have been speaking and writing about for a decade is still not in the forefront of America�s consciousness. While individual parents are trying to solve individual education problems, there�s no national program to keep us competitive through better education. (I don�t count No Child Left Behind,that complicated underfunded piece of public relations passed by the Bush Administration).

I’m torn, as usual, between relishing my own “good” education and wondering why we don’t even have a clue of how to alter education for the world we –and our children and grandchildren–will live in. As you know, in my own household, I have a twenty-year-old who cannot multiply. And yesterday, one of my very successful young friends could not come up with the word “anachronism.”

We have put all kinds of outcome studies of our public school system in place, and all they have done is point out how bad the outcomes really are. Usually, outcome studies are useless unless they lead to change. But I don’t see a country focussed on real change.

Instead, I see a country focussed on blaming others for its problems. The Arabs, the Israelis, the French, Osama bin Laden, whoever or whatever. We’re focussing on the War on Terror in other countries, and on Homeland Security against outsiders in our own. But who are the terrorists? They are young men and women in other countries who have received insufficient educations and don’t feel they have a promising future in this life. In their ignorance, they can be recruited by the Al Qaedas and the Hamases of the world.

We are looking outside when we should probably be looking within. When we graduate, or fail to graduate, people with intelligence, critical thinking skills, and both verbal and numerical literacy, we are sealing our own doom: not only as a global economic power, but as a safe country to live in. While spending money on missiles, we are breeding our own terrorists right here in the U.S. Drew Barrymore, age 31, has never voted before.

When Tom Ridge was in Arizona yesterday talking about readiness for a terrorist attack, he neglected to mention that, increasingly, this threat can come from ignorance and closedmindedness within as well as from without. The youth gangs in urban communities are already composed of young men who don’t expect to live past twenty-one. Without educations, they can either do drugs or sell drugs, or both. They don’t care about the future; they can’t even envision it. Al Qaeda can recruit them easily. I�m sure it is already happening, and it is only a matter of time before we hear of a suicide bomber we can�t dismiss as a misguided Muslim.

My point? We’re not going to have to wait for a terrorist attack from abroad; our lack of concentration on our own children will breed a generation of disconnected, anomic terrorists on our own shores. We�ve got 72 million young people in this generation; don�t we owe them something more than just a national debt and a war on Terror?

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