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Monday, October 24, 2011

Dear Rick Scott: Your (Anti)Education Plan Stinks

(You'll all have to excuse me while I rant about something political on this blog.)

If you haven't heard already, Rick Scott, the governor of Florida (where I live), announced his intention to change the Floridian university system by shifting funding away from the humanities towards "job creating" STEM majors.*  Plenty of folks have poked fun at him for singling out anthropologists (for having degrees in nifty fields, but which (apparently) do little for society).**  But I'd like to talk about a different problem:  Scott's assumption that STEM majors will create jobs or assure graduates that they will be able to find them.  I'll set aside, for the moment, that his program would likely affect me personally, since I am an English major in a field that would inevitably be cut.

To start things off, STEM majors don't produce jobs.  True, putting more funding into those majors will mean hiring more teachers, which would create some jobs, but this is counteracted by all those teachers in other fields who would likely get fired as a result of the budget shifts.  Scott's plan would do little more than produce more graduates in fields that are already overwhelmed with graduates.  There aren't enough jobs in the sciences to begin with.  When graduates in any field aren't able to get jobs in or relevant to their field, it's ridiculous to assume that producing more
majors in any particular field with result in more people going into the job market as STEM workers.  Roughly 42% of college graduates are either without jobs or working in jobs not related to their degrees.  That's not a number that can be ignored, since it shows how difficult the job market is for people who, in theory, are members of our professional and educated class.

But what people also need to pay attention to is the fact that Rick Scott, who ran on the Republican brand of "jobs, jobs, jobs," has also refused numerous opportunities to take on projects that would employ STEM graduates.  A prime example is the $2.4 billion high speed rail project he rejected because he thought it would be too costly on taxpayers.  That project would have been funded almost entirely by federal dollars.  While federal money comes directly from taxpayers, Scott's political maneuvering makes it seem as though he is saving taxpayers from having to pay for the project.  The problem?  That money was going to be spent anyway.  Scott's rejection only meant the federal government could take the money elsewhere.  Florida taxpayers are paying for a $2.4 billion project in another State, while benefiting not a lick from the economic boom such a project might have had for Florida.

And that's the key:  while Scott plays at being a pro-jobs governor with rhetorical pleas against the job-destroying humanities, his policies have effectively created an environment that is hostile towards workers, particularly STEM graduates.  True, Florida has added many jobs to its economy, but that has come at the expense of government employees and Florida's taxpayers, who now have to contend with a health and employment market that is less inclined towards their well-being.  In fact, Rick Scott is so disliked by so many Floridians that it's hard to pat him on the back and say, "Good job creating all those jobs."***  After all, Scott has screwed over or pissed off the elderly, teachers (twice), police officers and other public workers, civil rights activists, at-risk women and mothers, and anyone in a labor union (which includes teachers, firefighters, police officers, and on and on down the list).****

But more strikingly are the statistics about those jobs:
The fields of leisure and hospitality had the largest growth, growing by 58,500 jobs between September 2010 and September 2011. The field has grown 46,600 jobs between August 2010 and August 2011. 
State, county and local governments lost 14,000 jobs in September after shedding 20,400 positions in August. Construction jobs fell by 12,900 in September, after 17,600 positions were eliminated in August. 
Doug Darling, director of the new Department of Economic Opportunity, noted that there remain 977,000 Floridians eligible for unemployment.
Rick Scott likes to think that Florida's economy will be open to STEM graduates.  That all those engineers and scientists will come out of their degree programs and jump right into a field glowing with opportunities.  But what he won't tell you is that one of the largest growing industries in Florida remains the tourist industry, which puts little attention into STEM-based development.  And yet, what we see are governments losing thousands of jobs, construction workers going out of work by the thousands, and so on.  They are people who build the things engineers come up with; people who need projects to work on; and people who are, sadly, losing their jobs.  The tax breaks he gave to his corporate buddies, sadly, haven't exactly panned out the way his narrative would suggest.*****

What this all comes down to is a problem of ethos:  Scott doesn't have any.  His claims of being a job creator are specious at best, and so too are his claims that shifting educational priorities will result in greater job opportunities for Floridians (or anyone wanting to live here).  There's no rationality behind his claims.  Effectively, Rick Scott is a walking talking point.  He peddles the familiar arguments while functionally decimating what he perceives to be the bastions of the left.  And perhaps he should be worried about the leftist fields, because despite burying our faces in books all day and learning about the depths of human history, humanities majors have an insight into our underlying problems that continue to plague humanity.  We all may not come to the same conclusions -- in fact, most of us don't -- but the training we receive allows us to see between the lines in a political system that needs us to be under educated so we will avoid challenging the status quo.

And that's the problem.  The less willing we become to put intelligent people into office who aren't interested in coming out of the game rich and plump, the more likely our system will continue to suck the life out of the middle class and the poor to feed the amorality of corporatism.******

Maybe one day we'll wake up and realize America isn't a zero-sum game.  It's a country full of people.

*STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths.

**Anthropology, of course, is a valuable field.  Let's face it, almost all degree programs are valuable.  It's not like universities in the U.S. are offering degrees in Backpack Wearing or something ridiculous like that.  That's not to say it's impossible to have stupid degrees, just that they are rare or extremely unlikely.

***Scott, by the way, likes to take credit for job creation programs that began before he became governor.

****Full Disclosure:  I am a member of a public employee union.  Specifically, I am a member of Graduate Assistants United, which is itself a member of the National Education Association.  Not all unions are bad.  In fact, my union takes little money from me, negotiates on my behalf to make sure I get things like healthcare, uses my money to protect me (i.e., we get access to legal representation if we need it), and so on.  My union is everything but a "gang."  And I'd strongly suggest anyone who is against unions for public employees should actually spend some time in one.

*****Remember that the corporate/rich tax break narrative says that giving more money to the rich will resolve our economic woes.  Adherents to this model, of course, look towards Reagan as an example, despite the fact that Reagan was more liberal (relatively speaking) than most Republicans (and despite the fact that the economy didn't recover until the end of his presidential term, which, unlike Roosevelt, had nothing to do with a war or the ending thereof).

*****Corporations, after all, are neither moral, nor immoral.  They have only one function:  to make money.  And there's nothing wrong with that -- in principle.  But that means we have to regulate our economy so that "making money" doesn't come at the expense of the economic and social security of the rest of American society.

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