Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Devaluing Education Closes the Book on Progress, LITERALLY!

By Mark T. Burke

Near a small town in PA, in fact, the ONLY Town in PA, "progress" has once again demonstrated its cruelty.  A few days ago, the RR. Donnelley company announced the factory outside of Bloomsburg PA was closing.  300+ people will loose their jobs.  Does RR Donnelley sound familiar?  For those of us who enjoy reading, it should.  RR Donnelley prints books including one of the Harry Potter series.  Seven million books per month rolled off the presses during the boom years at the local plant according to the Press Enterprise (our local newspaper).  But, progress, the invention of the eReader and online media has killed the business.

I did some quick math to get a picture of what a closure like this means to our community in terms of numbers.  If each job impacts a typical family of a mother, father and 1.5 kids, that results in 1050 people's lives being turned upside down. Looking at that from a school class size perspective, it's easy to see the widespread impact in our area.  1050 people is equivalent to the graduation classes of all our schools combined (I just averaged the sizes and combined a few to be as accurate as possible).  It's also equal to 50% of the freshman class of Bloomsburg University. (Stats from School Digger and Higher Ed Jobs).  When we look at the impact from a different perspective, we clearly see how many people are negatively impacted.  Can we even imagine doing something to harm the future of every graduating senior in the class of 2012 or 50% of the entering class at Bloomsburg University?    

In many ways, I believe we can.  More and more conversations are popping up online concerning the value of education.  Within our local community, endless bickering over allowing student housing to be built (sometimes even trying to keep students out with court orders), fills our news.  More globally, the other day Entrepreneur Magazine posted to Facebook, "Do you need a college degree to be an entrepreneur."  (jump over to!/EntMagazine).  There are some interesting comments for sure.  Regardless of the tilt toward entrepreneurship, many comments seem to focus on the value of college degrees all together.  In PA at least, we can point to the huge budget cuts at the K-12 level, cuts to professional development and the 2 year hold on Act 48 requirements as signs that education is being devalued and thus, de-emphasized.  So, in theory, we are really facing the students (in the numbers I've posted above and beyond), and kicking them to the curb.

The net result is what WILL be scary, scarier than some seem to be able to envision.  I used RR Donnelley as example because it is clear that empire-like products and services DO fall.  New visions, new products, new services, change....they all create new opportunities, new jobs, new companies, new ways of making a living.  Where do those visions come from?  From people who are connected, people who have been challenged to THINK and defend those thoughts.  Where do people gain those experiences?  Schools, colleges, and universities!  Trainings and quick classes are important to our professional lives, but school is where we have sustained opportunities to BUILD knowledge through THINKING, sustained, THINKING. Without schools and a valued educational system, the future is scary.  No new factories, no new jobs, fewer realized dreams.

Like few times in the past, now is not the time to throw our hands up in the air regarding the value of education.

Mark is the founder and CEO of viaEdTechnologies, LLC. viaEd operates one of the nation's first fully online Music Academies and teams with LEA's to build and deliver innovative, online educational solutions for their students and staff.    

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