Friday Rant: Natural Disasters & Educational Spending

I hope that the recent catastrophic and tragic events in Japan have not only added new urgency to our supply chain planning and analysis, but also our national, local and individual preparedness for events that are unimaginable until they occur. While the U.S. has experienced less severe -- and no less tragic -- disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, I suspect that if there is even a vague sense of silver lining to such events, it involves reflection and action upon how we need to be better prepared in all ways and at every level. I'm not talking about 1960's style fallout shelters or hording canned food and bottled water. But rather, waking up to the fact that the U.S. has become a very softly skilled country.

Ha-Joon Chang, a South Korean economist currently teaching at Cambridge University in England writes in his recent book 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism reviewed in the Huffington Post, "We do not live in a post-industrial age. The myth that we do has just led to the neglect of U.S. manufacturing while Japan and Germany remain quite competitive in hard industries despite paying decent wages. You can't download a ride to work or the supermarket." And despite Japan's world class preparedness and the reconstruction road ahead, you can also bet that their diversified and widely skilled population will dramatically accelerate their road to recovery.

I remember those weird fallout shelters advertised in strip mall parking lots as a young kid. And though I only walked two blocks to school in the snow, I also recall wood shop, metal shop, electric shop, cooking and sewing classes -- and they were co-ed. We also had multi-level sports teams in which participation was not optional. Were these the good 'ol days? Not in all ways. But I developed an understanding, passion and respect -- alongside academics -- for the variety of skills required to produce our physical and economic environment and continue to dabble in all of them to this day. I hope, as we all do, to never experience a severe earthquake or tsunami with extended power failures and scarcity of food and water. But should I ever be a survivor in such an unimaginable circumstance, I'll fare far better than most.

"So what's your point Bill?" Simply this: Our educational infrastructure has fallen prey to a political tsunami that is not preparing future generations to cope with much of anything let alone a natural or man-made disaster. We're producing young adults who are inordinately overweight and very narrowly skilled (if at all) and who don't even own a toolbox -- and wouldn't know what to do with one if they did. So before you jump on the budget slashing bandwagon when it comes to education, think about the future and getting back to some basics. And if we re-establish a broader level of personal skills and the disasters never come, imagine the positive impact on our future economy, employment and the personal strength that self-sufficiency imbues.

- William Busch

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