Education has become the problem. Maybe it always was.
No, there was a brief moment after the Second World War when the federal government aggressively subsidized college attendance for millions of soldiers to become engineers, doctors, lawyers, and businessmen. The GI Bill essentially created the upper middle class on the foundations of the New Deal and the broken shell of a continent called Europe.
Some people love to criticize the New Deal for not growing the American economy, but that wasn’t the goal. It was stopping the massive contractions that unfolded between 1929 and 1933. In that sense, the massive packages of legislation created a floor for the American economy. Once the floor was in place, the nation could begin to rebuild.
One of the keys to eventual victory in the Cold War was the creation of the most widely and highly educated population in world history. Partnerships between the public and private sector to benefit millions of wage earners made the United States a global superpower and created opportunities for women, immigrants, and African Americans to move into an inclusive, multi-racial democracy for the first time after 1965.
From that point forward, fragmentation took hold.
The mild economic contractions during the 1970s combined with the destruction of the public trust under both Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. Television surged into the void to provide voices of authority, but their networks’ imperatives to earn profits ultimately cost the public objective journalism. Cable systems like Comcast emerged over the next generation and worsened the problem by multiplying the voices competing to be heard. By 2001, it took a massive international terrorist strike to create anything that resembled a unified nation.
And that moment was bungled away with a foolhardy mission of greed and revenge in Iraq two years later. In an era now dominated by infinite outlets for information, fragmentation has broken nations, states, communities, families, and even individuals. Mental illness is endemic enough to confuse thousands of people into picking up firearms and shooting whomever they blame for the circumstances in their lives.
Slowly, everyone is losing their minds.
Education – true engagement with the fundamental questions that remain unresolved in a world consumed with strife and mistrust – is the best answer to build a better world. Now, who has the will to rebuild the entire K-16 edifice across the world, so that children might once again share a common definition of freedom?
Let’s not wait for the next Hitler or bin Laden to provide the urgency to stand up.
Dr. Walter Greason is the Chief Executive Officer of the International Center for Metropolitan Growth (www.icmetrogrowth.com) and the author of Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended the Civil Rights Movement in New Jersey. His work is available on LinkedIn, Twitter (@worldprofessor1/@icmgrowth), Facebook, and by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).