"America Needs Talent" is a 2015 non-fiction book by Jamie Merisotis, president of the Lumina Foundation, one of the nation's largest higher education foundations. The book is a blueprint for the type of reforms and policies that he believes the United States needs to reclaim its status in the post-war years as the world's leader in technology and productivity. Merisotis uses the term "talent" because he wants to go beyond just education, and also people with pet theories often have insistent terminology
He has a group of particular policy ideas, for example, replacing the credit hour with a test of student's competencies, using public-private partnerships, collecting the Department of Education, Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security into a "Department of Talent" that would help educated immigrants come to the United States, and turn "cities into talent hubs", pulling them out of Urban Decay. Some of these ideas make sense, and some of them seem overly hyped.
Let me talk about one in particular. The book discusses "Massive Open Online Courses". which some of you might remember from about six months in 2011, and others of you are confusing with Skyrim. In bits of jargon, these are offered as a "competency based" method over normal boring college courses where, in the author's imagination, a professor sits in front of a board and the students are rewarded for being in the room. The problem with Massive Open Online Courses, and why someone can't become a working engineer or nurse just by going to these courses, is that education involves feedback, interaction, criticism, and for many disciplines, working with physical material. Without that, its basically watching YouTube videos. All of which I assume that someone who had worked in higher ed for decades would know, or at least should know. The idea that education is too hidebound because it counts education in hours of participation, and that technology and objective testing of a students mastery is the solution, is a glib one.
Glib, that is a good word for most of this book.
Another thing about this book is that it was written by someone who lives in Indiana, and he assumes that what is going on in Eastern states like Indiana and Michigan is true of the country as a whole. An entire chapter of the book is devoted to the civic boosterism of Grand Rapids, Michigan. In a passage that I think could be classified somewhere between "cringe" and corny, he talks about how civic boosters made a video of people lip synching to the song "American Pie" to support their city, which, to my mind, doesn't really exactly hit the nail on the nose about what is going on with 21st century cities. He talks about American cities like they are still in a state of urban decay, and this book was written in 2015, about twenty years after West Coast cities started to get gentrified. While Western cities certainly have their problems, those problems are created by how popular the tech industry has made places like San Francisco and Seattle, but Merisotis takes the pattern of declining Eastern cities like Indianapolis or Detroit to be universal facts of American life.
This book is the definition of centrist, and it is pretty open about the idea that education is synonymous with building up a strong workforce.
I could say more things about this book, but I can address the core problem fairly simple: this book assumes that the United States needs more high technology, and highly educated people, to get stronger, and assumes that by providing education, technology, and expertise ("talent") that society on the whole will be improved. This book was published in 2015, and the rise of xenophobia and homophobia are things that the book, to its credit, condemns. But what the book couldn't foresee is that a few years later, at least 600,000 people (and counting) would die because they chose to ignore hygiene precautions that people learn in kindergarten, or perhaps by second or third grade. The book talks about how the United States can attract and produce people who can understand the most esoteric aspects of biotechnology, but it turns out that is not what we needed: we just needed people to follow elementary ideas to keep themselves and others safe. Do you know how many doctorates it takes to understand "inhaling other people's saliva is bad"? It wasn't a lack of esoteric, elite knowledge that doomed us, it was people clinging to easily disprovable beliefs out of psychological and sociological emptiness that led to this. The problem with communication and discourse in a democracy is not something that can be solved by putting more Ivy League PhDs in organizational development on the Interdepartmental Group for Knowledge Leadership: it involves much more basic, yet profound changes in American society.
America Needs Talent