IBM’s stock with the parents of America may not be riding too high these days, but as far as their kids are concerned, it just hit ground zero. First it hypes them up with all kinds of expectations for PCjr, only to reduce them to the bitterest disappointment when they discover that their computer is just as boring as the one Dad uses, only not as good. But that’s as nothing compared with the manifesto prepared for them by IBM’s chairman John Akers, a sort of Big Rock Candy Mountain in reverse, with all the hallmarks of the dastardly grown-up plots that used to have Shirley Temple or Mickey Rooney leading childrens’ crusades. Cut the school holidays? Banish the TV? Can the man be serious? He is. American students must spend more days in school and fewer watching television if they are to become successful competitors in global trade competition, Akers told the Economic Club of Detroit this week. And, indeed, United Press International reports that he urged a longer school year and turning off television as steps in upgrading the nation’s educational system as a key to competitiveness. Much of the US, he said, has been looking for hiding places from foreign competition in protectionism and a national industrial policy. But he quoted Detroit’s Joe Louis, the late world boxing champion, saying an opponent can run, but he can’t hide. An examination of the roots of the Constitution 200 years ago would teach three lessons – realism, education and co-operation. We’ve all seen press reports that in an international algebra test students from Hong Kong came in first; Japan second, the United States 14th, Akers said.
Right behind Hungary
That’s 14th, right behind Hungary. Enrollment in teacher education programs dropped by half between 1972 and 1982, and today there is particular scarcity of science and mathematics teachers. Some of the things that have to be done are obvious, he added. Lengthen the school year by recognising that US public schools stay open 180 days, Japanese schools two months longer 243 days. Turn off the television set. Between the ages of six and 18, American children watch something like 15,000 hours 2,000 more than they spend in school. Bring parents back into the learning process, and restore in our schools discipline and standards. Akers noted that realism does not mean confrontational winner-take-all nationalism. Realism today means seeing a world in which self-sufficient nationalism is dead, in which any nation or region that tries to dam the intercontinental flow of ideas, information, products and capital inevitably threatens to make its home industries non-competitive, cut its population off from the world’s best goods and services, and turn its country into a nation of technological followers. Some countries do shut their markets to American products, subsidise their manufacturers and farmers and allow them to dump their products in the US, he said. But protectionism isn’t the answer: it helped bring on the Great Depression. Co-operation, he said, means we’re going to compete or fail to compete as a society. We all have to work together, including management and labour, he concluded. And it’s not helpful to throw spears at one another. The teachers won’t like it, but W C Fields would be proud of you, Mr Akers… you’re right, of course.