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A Rationale for a Re-education Program

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Wrapped up as we are in the day-to-day aspects of our lives, many of us don't bother to focus on how important the creation and cultivation of constructive relationships are to the maintenance of a healthy society. For the United States, one of the most important and consequential of those partnerships has been the one which developed between the business community, the nation's network of colleges and universities, and American students/workers in the years following the Second World War. With the encouragement and financial support of the federal government, the fruits of their extraordinary liaison would go on to add a huge dose of credibility to Time editor Henry Luce's characterization of the 20th century as the American Century. When I look at the state of that relationship today, I am reminded of an old Mae West one-liner, "I used to be Snow White but I drifted." Why, in a nation of over three hundred million people, do so many of us feel like we've been abandoned? More importantly, what do we have to do to restore the cooperative spirit and sense of national purpose which has been a hallmark of the United States? I have an idea but before we move forward I think it is best that we take a moment to reflect on where we've been.

It is not a coincidence that paralleling the decline in the fortunes of the American middle class has been an upsurge in the use of corporate jargon aimed at distracting workers, confusing critics, and masking a multitude of sins and shortcomings. While I consider most of what I heard over the years to be nothing more than gobbledygook, there is one expression which has stayed with me because it continues to provide a concise analysis of what ails us as a society. That phrase is "silo effect," which is defined as a failure in the mutual exchange of information between groups. It is a condition which stifles feelings of empathy and has a detrimental effect on productivity. When not addressed, the silo effect breeds ignorance and can foster a malignant brand of tribalism.

Human beings are social animals and we don't perform at our best when we're in isolation. Nevertheless, that hasn't stopped us from erecting walls and artificial barriers which do just that. Our nation's captains of business and finance decry America's fiscal situation while downplaying their role in creating it. They find ways to enforce the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law. This continuing state of affairs has added to the urgency of coaxing the U.S. educational community out of its self-imposed academic cocoon. In the last election, voters in my home state of New Jersey approved a $750 million bond issue aimed at expanding and renovating our state's colleges. As a supporter of the measure, I applaud our collective foresight and hope the electorate in other parts of the United States will make a similar investment. In return, I want to see the members of academia assume a bigger role in helping to advance the career aspirations their students. They need to recognize that the active pursuit such a policy will go a long way towards ensuring their own financial security and that of our country. Finally, workers and students need to be taught that running a business or any organization for that matter is no walk in the park. It's a combination of brains, hard work and commitment. If they want to move up in the world, students and workers must find ways to be part of the solution rather than just another problem.

The federal government gives huge sums of money to U.S. companies and universities but has rarely asked for a suitable return on its investment. Well, it's payback time. It is imperative that managers whose decisions shape the destiny of nations and the lives of billions be suitably educated for the demands of the modern world. With the insistence of the American people and the support of the United States government, I propose asking American colleges and universities to craft a one semester renewable certificate program combining aspects and objectives of a liberal arts program, an MBA program and an Honors program. For the sake of clarity, I am going to call it a Contemporary Education Certificate (CEC) program. Every mid-level manager, senior level manager and director of a company receiving a grant, government contract, financial aid or a tax break from the U.S. government will be required to attend class and earn a passing grade. Tuition costs will be the responsibility of the company. Upon completion of the program, the employee or board member will receive a Contemporary Education Certificate valid for ten years. At the end of the ten-year period, managers and directors will be required to take a new class to receive recertification. For their final assignment, CEC participants will be asked to design and implement a project that supports the needs of the local community.

I envision the Contemporary Education Certificate program as a way to reinvigorate the aforementioned alliance between business, academia and students/laborers which used to be the wellspring of U.S. power, influence, and prosperity. It is my hope that the CEC program or something similar might become an agenda item in President Obama's upcoming State of the Union address. Now, I'm asking all of you to express your support for the development of a Contemporary Education Certificate program or better yet, describe your own ideas on how we can come together for the purpose of helping the United States live up to the ideals on which it was founded.