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An education overhaul needed to face future

A small group of lawmakers in the House and Senate are recognized for pushing forward with serious proposals to overhaul the nation’s higher education system.

These legislators are known for their track record to make things happen.  What they’re looking at is the Higher Education Act of 1965 that includes the entire federal loan system that has not been updated in more than a decade.  Then, too, and perhaps most important, these office-holders in D.C. view the overhaul as addressing economic implications that would address the skills gap to fill the more than 6 million job openings going vacant in the U.S.

Further, the effort is very timely as the nation’s colleges and universities seek to redefine themselves in a rapidly changing market where they can become more affordable, accessible and relevant to the ever-growing number of youth and adults in low-income financial situations. Some of the interest in this matter, too, comes from the need to counteract the trend throughout America where a huge number of high schoolers do not graduate and those who do get to college, fail to stay to certificate or degree status.

Reports out of Washington on this subject indicate that, in the Senate, Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and ranking member Senator Patty Murray, D-WA, are calling for movement.  Of course, these two movers and shakers will need the help of many Senate colleagues but have won the hearts and minds of their fellow senators in past efforts to get things of consequence accomplished.

The pair of senators held five committee hearings last year though they’ve been at the matter for the past four years and thereby have a foundation upon which to build.  These principal legislators have already proven once that they can “thread a needle” by crafting the re-write of No Child Left Behind a couple of years ago.  Some diplomacy, however, will be required for the “majors” to work together as the confirmation of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos resulted in bad feelings all around.

Negativity appears to rule over at the U.S. House of Representatives as efforts there have been almost exclusively along party lines.  House Republicans have proposed some non-starters for the Democrats that include the elimination by GOP members of several federal grants, lower cost repayment programs and protection of student loan borrowers who have been defrauded by for-profit colleges. The contest in the House has Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., versus Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., so heavy-duty negotiations remain for progress to occur.

It has been recognized for years that we’d do better, much better, at education and training outcomes by combining them as one contiguous activity.  A treatise on this subject could be written but suffice it to say that we could and should do more to integrate theory with practice from beginning to completion in our schools and, later, colleges and universities. Stating the matter another way, instead of sitting our youth at desks or in lecture halls to exclusive rote memory by lecture and book learning, they would learn at every step and stage of their development to relate what they learn to practical applications.

This kind of route to preparation would of necessity require a close relationship between schools/colleges and work places of all kinds, a coming together that’s found at community colleges but much less so in K-12 school districts and four-year institutions of higher learning.  A process like this requires teachers in schools along with professors in colleges to provide our youth with exposure to jobs and careers that piggyback on interests and aptitudes.  Suggested motto for new American curriculum at all levels: Heads-engaged always, hands-on ready.

Among many other relevant education and training-related matters is the ability to recognize fact from fiction, truth from lies, reputable sources from propaganda, hyperbole, understatement and the illogical.  The 2016 election proved that many Americans do not recognize false news and gross exaggerations and were influenced accordingly by Russian agents disguised as Americans out to sabotage our democracy. If our youth and young adults were able to determine what’s accurate and not accurate information, we’d be a nation of people safer from devious, insidious manipulations. Education and training is available to teach and practice our youth so that in the future the average American is less easily, even seldom, hardly ever, bamboozled and thereby misled.

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)