American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “Our best thoughts come from others.”

The problem is, for different reasons many people derail learning by drawing their conclusions too soon, based on incomplete information. They inadvertently close themselves off from an array of enriching resources.

Last year, in the Washington Post’s “How to Keep America Competitive” (Feb. 25), Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corporation, wrote, “Innovation is the source of U.S. economic leadership and the foundation for competitiveness in the global economy,” with its workforce as “the most important factor.”

He argued, “if we are to remain competitive, we need a workforce that consists of the world’s brightest minds.” There’s nothing to disagree with here.

Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek affirmed, the U.S. system “is very good at developing the critical faculties of the mind,” and reminds us that foreign governments send observers to U.S. schools “to learn how to create a system that nurtures and rewards ingenuity, quick thinking, and problem-solving.”

Gates has called for “strong schools” for “young Americans (to) enter the workforce with the math, science and problem-solving skills they need to succeed in the knowledge economy.” He laments, out of 29 industrialized nations surveyed, U.S. high school students ranked 24th on an international math test in 2003.

In 2007, he wrote about America’s “crisis point”: computer science employment is “growing by nearly 100,000 jobs annually,” but there’s a “dramatic decline in the number of students graduating with computer science degrees.”

Yet, 25 years ago America’s National Commission on Excellence in Education reported in “A Nation At Risk” that “Our Nation is at risk … the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”

“What was unimaginable a generation ago,” the April 1983 report says, “has begun to occur – others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.”

The report recommended, among other things, “far more homework”; the teaching of English, mathematics, science, social studies, computer science, each area with specific purposes; as well as the learning of a foreign language in elementary grades.

In April 2008, “A Stagnant Nation: Why American Students Are Still at Risk,” charges that “stunningly few of the Commission’s recommendations actually have been enacted” because of politics; the U.S. once ranked first in graduation rates, “has now fallen to 21st among industrialized nations.” It asserts, “We cannot afford to graduate millions of high school seniors who lack skills in reading and math that they should have learned in middle school.”

Falling behind

“Wake up. We are falling behind daily,” the April 30 USA Today’s Greg Toppo quoted Bob Compton of Harvard Business School, an entrepreneur, angel investor, and professional venture capitalist, who has been active in over 30 businesses.

Erik Hromadka’s “2 Million Minutes, How high school students in China, India and Indiana are spending their time,” in the February Indiana Business cover story, “Is Time Running Out?” is a must read.

In 2005, Compton traveled on business across India, to which a growing number of U.S. technology jobs are “being outsourced” — an “economic tectonic shift” taking place in the world. He said he found his “seminal moment” when he asked 5- and 6-year-old first graders in a Bangalore classroom what they want to be when they grow up. “Most of them said engineers or scientists,” compared to American children who “aspired to be rock stars and professional athletes .

The one word that was never mentioned (by American children) was ‘engineer’ and that just shook me to the core.”

Compton sees “strong math and science skills … will allow people in the 21st century to earn high wages,” and that “capital and opportunity are going to flow to where the brains are.”

Compton set out to spend 20 months to make the documentary film “Two Million Minutes” ( about how high school students in Bangalore, students in Shanghai, and at Indiana’s Carmel High School, among the top five percent of high schools in the U.S., compare and contrast; how they allocate their time in class and at home studying, playing sports, working, sleeping, goofing off, “affecting their economic prospects for the rest of their lives.”

Of the 2 million minutes, the Chinese spend 583,200 minutes on school work, the Indians, 422,400 minutes, and the Americans, 302,400 minutes, Indiana Business reported.

In the June 2004 New York Times’s “Doing Our Homework,” Thomas Friedman wrote he now tells his daughters, “Finish your homework — people in China and India are starving for your job.” The USA Today reminds there are 1.1 billion people in India and 1.3 billion in China who want American children’s “education, prosperity and, someday, their jobs.”

In Hromadka’s words, the film shows Indian and Chinese students “work in schools with far fewer resources, live with a much lower standard of living and put much more effort on academics.”

As Toppo reported, the film “finds plenty (for Americans) to be worried about: not enough study or homework time, not enough parental pressure, not enough focus on math or engineering. American teens … are preoccupied with sports, after-school jobs and leisure.”

Americans need to be concerned about their ability to remain globally competitive.

Source: Pacific Daily News, GU