This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

December 8, 2011 - knowledge has a price

December 8, 2011 - knowledge has a price

I've been presenting this week to librarians, Friends organizations, and board members in North Carolina. Speaking with me has been one Bill Millett, a consultant who does a lot of work with libraries.

Millett is a former economic development person, and he has some interesting things to say about that. For a long time, he noted, North Carolina was winning the economic development game across the nation. They were landing one big company after another. Why? Because they had cheap labor.

But that's begun to change. Some of those companies are leaving. Now, the competition isn't just national, it's global. There is no way that any place in America can keep providing the cheapest labor in the world.

More to the point, that's not even what companies are looking for anymore. They want skilled labor. He talked about a company in Dallas that moved overseas because they had 5,000 vacant highly technical positions -- and not enough qualified applicants. 

We know that China and India are spending a lot of time and attention on education. Their instruction is now heavily focused not just on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (the so-called STEM disciplines), but also on developing the creativity of young students. Maybe you've seen the numbers: there are more people in the top 25% of their student population than we have students.

Amid the campaign talk about American exceptionalism, it might behoove us to notice that we're not even in the top twenty of international student performance (according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Programme for International Student Assessment). In Colorado, a quarter of our students aren't graduating from high school -- half of them, in Denver, our capital. National research suggests that we may be raising the first generation of Americans who will be LESS educated than their parents.

To Millett, this willful erosion of what he calls our "knowledge infrastructure" -- the investment in early literacy, through higher education, to the continuous retooling that will be necessary in a global economy -- is a kind of treason. Our leaders are frittering around with pointless political gotchas when the livelihood of our children and grandchildren, and our standing as a nation, are imperiled.

He tells the story about a company that relocated to Charlotte some years ago, bringing 1,200 jobs with them. He writes, "Charlotte was a finalist along with Atlanta, Dallas, Tampa and Nashville. On the day that he announced that Charlotte had been selected, the company president said that all of the cities had much to offer. What made Charlotte the winner were a few factors that distinguished it from the competition, among them the quality of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library."

Since then, of course, that library has closed branches, laid off staff, and shut down a series of award-winning programs. The problem? Funding.

Millett, a Baby Boomer, said, "People who served in World War II are now known as the Greatest Generation. How will our generation be remembered?"

The Greatest Generation responded to the threat of Sputnik by putting man on the moon. 

We never went back. [Correction: yes, we did. But our last manned moon trip was in 1972, 39 years ago.] These days, even our upper atmospheric shuttles are all worn out. 

Which country will launch tomorrow's satellites? Where will they learn the skills and the attitudes that build confidently toward a better future?
LaRue's Views are his own.


  1. The Golden Age of Education Never Was
    By Walt Gardner
    February 7, 2011

  2. Please read before you post again:


  3. http://www.substancenews.net/articles.php?page=684

  4. Thanks for the links, I read 'em. But I wasn't school bashing, as I gather you seem to think. And those pieces don't invalidate my points. I was talking about the growing unwillingness of Americans to invest in education, and the importance of education to our nation. The first two articles you linked to were just opinion pieces. The Bracey stuff actually made some factual claims, and that was interesting. His comments about the role of poverty in education scores is intriguing -- but then, our poverty rates are hardly something to brag about, either. But if all of this is supposed to be an argument for educational complacency, I don't buy it. See, just for instance, the book "Fool Me Twice," by Shawn Lawrence Otto, about the concerted attack on science and science education in this country. What's your point, anyhow?

  5. http://www.amazon.com/Fool-Me-Twice-Fighting-Assault/product-reviews/1605292176/ref=cm_cr_dp_hist_1?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&filterBy=addOneStar

    from my original post:

    Are the K-12s on the wrong path? Yes. Why? Because they are governed by politicians who read gibberish by people who recite myths instead of finding out facts.

    BTW -- Rover is now in its fifth year of exploring Mars.

  6. An interesting citation. Here's another. "... the problems he identifies are quite real. Fool Me Twice offers a compelling consideration of the United States' political estrangement from science." -Science Magazine.