thing happened on the way to a professional football game in Philadelphia
several weeks back. It was cancelled due to ... â€Šimpending snow.
Is this a cautious act of a responsible local government or a sign of a
larger shift in our national sturdiness? In the mind of Pennsylvania Gov. Ed
Rendell, the situation spoke for itself: "We've become a nation of wusses. The Chinese are kicking our butt in
everything. If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off
the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have
walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down."
Rendell's hyperbole-laden rant just might be the first time that a leading
public official evoked our collective dread of "calculus" as a sign of our nation's
lack of toughness. A stretch? Maybe, but he is saying something that we don't
want to readily acknowledge in this country.
generations fought and struggled to build a great nation that provided
opportunities to those who would work hard. Now our policy wonks are spending
billions trying to develop creative ways to pry kids away from the TV so that
they can gain the knowledge necessary to pursue opportunities for their own
Our push to
strengthen our national competitiveness began in 2005 with the National
Academies landmark study "Rising Above the Gathering Storm." The resulting
federal response was the America COMPETES Act, originally funded by stimulus
money, and reauthorized in January. In announcing the reauthorization, the official
White House website framed the signing of the bill as "America COMPETES Act
Keeps America's Leadership on Target."
the evidence seems to show that Gov. Rendell's off-handed remark might just be
more accurate than the official release from the White House. In an
unprecedented act, the National Academies recently published a five year
follow-up to the Gathering Storm report - a quote from the executive summary
says it all: "The Gathering Storm Committee's overall conclusion is that in spite
of the efforts of â€…both those in government and the private
sector, the outlook for America to compete for quality jobs has further
deteriorated over the past five years."
compiled a list of daunting statistics that provide a real perspective on the
current overall health of our nation. Here are a few:
annual federal investment for research in math, physical sciences and
engineering is equal to the increase in U.S. healthcare costs every nine weeks.
Economic Forum ranks the U.S. 48th in quality of mathematics and
now replaced the U.S. as the world's number one high-technology exporter.
doesn't like to lose. That is one of our greatest strengths. But our
competition has upped their game considerably, and they are actually playing to
win. Just like our grandparents and great grandparents, families around the
world today want education and knowledge so badly that they will indeed walk to
school in the snow, uphill all the way ...while doing calculus.
Geoffrey C. Orsak is Dean of the SMU Lyle School of Engineering. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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