Education, Innovation, and Capital
Dr. Walter Greason
6 September 2012
The 2012 Election just reignited the culture wars. This past weekend, scholar and political analyst Melissa Harris-Perry challenged the prevailing opinion that industrialists and small business owners take substantial risks and justifiably reap greater rewards in the American economy. This position is a standard of basic economic theory – risk creates value. Professor Harris-Perry’s rejection of that principle relied on the assertion that nothing is riskier than being poor.
The distinctions between these two ideas of risk reflect the major ideological divisions in the United States and the industrialized world. Conservative Republicans adhere to the orthodoxy of economics, invoking the success of the free market over the last century as evidence of the process of creative destruction where some companies and products succeed, while others fail. Liberal Democrats focus on the cost of this process to individual families and communities, emphasizing increasing unemployment, stagnant wages, union impotence, and decreasing access to higher education.
Exploiting this chasm between these two perspectives is the antithesis of a united America. It is the most visible failure of colleges and universities in the United States. Professionalization threatens to dismantle the most important accomplishments of higher education from the last two generations. Engineering, nursing, business, and computer science all provide crucial perspectives for human innovation. Yet the social sciences and humanities form the core of a new tradition to inspire excellence in the twenty-first century.
Virtue in this tradition relies on strong evidence and critical analysis. Great educators, in the molds of Anna Julia Cooper, Mary McLeod Bethune, Lillie Ham Hendry, and Kerry Ann Rockquemore, are the most important element in building future understanding of managing risks – both physical and financial – in the creation of greater human prosperity. Senator Bob Casey must summarize the role of the federal government in repairing Route 422 over the last three years. Governor Tom Corbett needs to explain his analysis that initiatives like the First Suburbs and Building One Pennsylvania projects were not important to protecting Pennsylvania’s middle class. All politicians need to conceptualize the elements and implications of their policies in ways that inspire their constituents.
Distinguished literary scholar, Professor James Basker of Barnard College provides an essential model of educational innovation. As the founder of the Oxford Academic Programs across Europe, he inspired a generation of transnational excellence that has now expanded into the United States with the New York College Experience. Participants in this program will present their research at major international conferences like the Interdisciplinary Conference on Race in New Jersey this November and scholarly publications like Rollins College’s Specs Interdisciplinary journal. Innovative, critical analysts can revitalize higher education and resolve the fractious debates that prevent the best use of human capital.
The next two months provide an opportunity to create socially just democracy around the world. Norristown must lead Pennsylvania in the effort to assure American leadership for human excellence.
Dr. Walter Greason is a Visiting Professor at Monmouth University. You can follow him on Twitter (@worldprofessor1).