Sunday, June 19, 2011
© 2009 and 2011, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
In what areas is the United States still No. 1? Was it ever? Or was this exalted status something we told ourselves to boost our sense of pride and accomplishment?
Just this week, CNN reported that the U.S. is No. 38 in terms of the life expectancy of its citizens, far behind many nations which are poorer, and spend far less on health care.
In a previous post about the mark made by political thought giant Irving Kristol, columnist David Brooks wrote something which struck us:
“He [Kristol] was unabashedly neoconservative. But he also stood apart, and directed his skeptical gaze even on his own positions, and even on the things to which he was most loyal… ‘There are no benefits without costs in human affairs,’ he once wrote. And so there is no idea so true and no movement so pure that it doesn’t require scrutiny. There was no position in this fallen world without flaws.”
A question might be raised as to whether it would be a good thing for us, as a Nation, to acknowledge that others have surpassed us in certain areas, or are nipping at our heels. There’s lots of rhetoric these days about our “great nation” and how this is the most powerful nation in the history of humankind.
But resting on one’s laurels has its problems, as does continuing to do things the same way, simply because they worked in the past, or through rigid adherence to a particular philosophy.
The Father of one of our friends claims that golfer Tiger Woods can cruise now in his career, “since he has already made his money.” But whether it is Tiger Woods, or legendary basketball star Larry Bird, the existence of talent without continuing effort, and a desire to excel, yields few championship trophies.
In order for the Road Runner to have existed all of these years, he had to outrun Wile E. Coyote everyday, and come up with new ways to “out-coyote” him.
His survival is dependent upon his speed and agility.
A couple of years ago we watched C-Span2 Book TV's coverage of the 2009 National Book Festival, founded by former First Lady Laura Bush in 2001. That such a festival was only started recently might come as a surprise to many, but may reflect something about us.
Many of us consider a good education and the ability to read as givens. Yet, the percentage of functionally illiterate citizens in America would probably shock most.
At least those of us who can read.
A friend of ours spent some time teaching courses at a community college. He often tells the story of a student who, while taking a math test, summoned him. He told her that he could not assist her.
She noted that the issue was not a math issue, but a word issue. When he looked at the problem, she pointed to the word “suspension,” and said she did not know its meaning. Without knowing its meaning, it was impossible for her to perform the calculation necessary.
In response to this revelation, our friend decided that even in his math classes, his students would learn 10 new words each day. After announcing his new policy to his night class and the reasons for the change, a student approached him after class, and said that he was one of the people about whom the instructor had spoken.
When our friend inquired as to what the student meant, the student related an amazing story. He said that although he was not very proud of it, he got kicked out of high school one month before graduation, and did not learn to read prior to that time.
Imagine an educational system where a student can be promoted for 12 years, and still not manage to read. And consider the fact that no one single factor, teacher, school, or system can be singled out for this travesty. They all had to work in concert with one another.
One of our other friends has been in collegiate and professional athletics for years. He has always contended that he’d rather have a bunch of C grade players who hustled and gave their best, than a team of A grade players who didn’t.
After listening to the introductory speakers during the opening ceremonies for National Book Festival, it occurred to us that we have a long way to go in getting the most out of our human resources, and that acknowledging that many of our current systems are perhaps not the best in the world, might be a good starting point.
For some reason, this line of thinking made us re-visit one of the longest running marketing slogans around, that for Avis Rent a Car, the number two agency behind number one Hertz. “We try harder.”
We did not know who started this campaign, but we had a suspicion, and looked it up. And yes, it turned out to be another Bill Bernbach masterpiece.
Its beauty is in its simplicity.
It’s neither un-American, nor un-patriotic to question our standing in the world, and investigate whether what we’ve been doing is really in the long-term, national, collective interest.
Societal responsibility is not dramatically different from personal responsibility. A nation can’t complain about its standing in the world, if it hasn’t done all that it can do to excel, and use its human resources to the fullest extent possible. That includes equipping all of its citizens with competitive tools, and ensuring that they are ready for the fight.
And that’s just plain Common Sense.
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