Thursday, February 23, 2012

We're Going to be Shooting Blanks Soon...

There are times when I start feeling really discouraged. I'm trying to imagine a country that is trying to fight a war, but the soldiers are stymied by the fact that their country doesn't want to provide them the supplies and ammunition they need to fight the war. I imagine what it's like to be down in the trenches, firing at the enemy (while they fire back). We call for more bullets and reinforcements, but are told that our citizens (especially the richest ones) don't want to foot the bill for the battle. So we fight on, with dwindling supplies, fewer and fewer bullets, until all of the ammunition is exhausted. Disaster, of course, follows. I have a feeling that some regard this as not being a metaphor (like sending unarmored vehicles into Iraq), but it is one. The enemy in this war metaphor is ignorance.

Welcome to public education in the United States (and especially California) in the 21st century. At the very time that an educated, well-trained work force is critically needed to compete in the world, our society is turning its back on the teachers and institutions that can provide that education. Sure, we are in a recession (I know it is "officially" over, but not here in California and the Central Valley), but it is at times like these that we need to push all the harder for a better education system for all our citizens. An educated workforce is our ticket to beating the recession. But instead we are now rationing education, limiting it to those who can pay, and locking out those who cannot. It's just like rationing bullets in a war. If we want to compete in the world, we need to be sacrificing to give our children and our college students the best possible preparation for the workforce. And those who are best off in this economy should at the forefront of providing assistance.

Like I said, I'm discouraged. I read things like the GSA position paper below (cross-posted from Teaching the Earth Sciences), and at the same time I read an e-mail from my college president and division dean explaining that for the fourth year in a row we have to cut to the bone. We laid off tenured professors last year, and eliminated entire programs, including engineering. We aren't cutting to the bone anymore, we are cutting off arms and legs. And we are told once more to do more with less.

I suppose at this point I am supposed to say "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" (If you missed the movie Network, check it out; the vision of the future was frighteningly spot on). But I'm not going to do that. I love teaching, and I love my students. I worry for them, and I want to give them the best shot I can. It would be nice just once in a great while to not hear politicians say how greedy we are to be asking for the resources to do our job in an adequate manner. We need ammunition to fight the war against ignorance.

This isn't the way things should be. Rant over...

From the Geological Society of America

Acute Demand for U.S. Geoscientists Prompts Call for Higher Ed Action

Boulder, CO, USA – A recent American Geosciences Institute workforce evaluation estimates that by 2021, some 150,000 to 220,000 geoscience jobs will need to be filled. The AGI report notes that at current graduation rates, most of these jobs will not be able to be filled by U.S. citizens.

Citing great concern about the acute need for well-trained, well-educated geoscience graduates to fill the geoscience workforce, Geological Society of America President John Geissman is calling for colleges and universities to recognize the value of strong, adequately supported geoscience departments. High-quality geoscience education, Geissman notes, is essential to understanding and adequately addressing the “very pressing needs of our society,” including sustainability and human-caused climate change, as well as keeping the growing number of geoscience jobs filled by U.S. citizens.

Included in his call for action, Geissman refers to two very recently approved GSA Position Statements that focus on the importance of teaching earth science and expanding and improving geoscience education in institutions of higher learning.

Both position statements are online at All GSA position statements include suggestions for how to implement and support the call to action.

The Importance of Teaching Earth Science recognizes that basic knowledge of earth science is essential to meeting the environmental challenges and natural resource limitations of the twenty-first century and notes that earth-science education should begin at the K–12 level and include advanced classes led by well-qualified science teachers.

Expanding and Improving Geoscience in Higher Education calls specifically for robust, well-supported geoscience departments not only to ensure an increase in the number of geoscience students available to the workforce but also to provide the training necessary “to address crucial societal issues that have the potential to impact global economic security and the well-being of human populations” across the globe.

John Geissman is a professor at The University of Texas at Dallas, emeritus professor at the University of New Mexico, and Geological Society of America president through 30 June 2012.
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