Thursday, March 8, 2007

Bill Gates: an American patriot supporting sexy innovation

What makes America great?

Free speech? Freedom of worship? Democracy? Yes. Yes. Yes, but nothing's sexier than innovation.

America has been one of the most innovative countries. We've only been around since 1776, but we developed the light bulb, the automobile, the computer, peanut butter, Wite-Out®, UNIVAC, the personal computer...the list goes on.

As of late, however, we seem to be lagging behind. India and China are poised to be the next great information/economic superpowers because of their triumphs in manufacturing and technology. Here in America we seem to be more interested in Anna Nicole's secret patronization of the Church of Scientology. Why? We're complacent. We're fat and lazy. We're the bump on the log that buys the 60-inch plasma/LCD/DLP and posts up in the house and watches HDTV while the rest of the world becomes better equipped to function in the global economy.

Recently, Bill Gates (yes THAT Bill Gates) went before the U.S. Senate and basically said that America needs to remain competitive, and that enhancing our flailing education system and revamping the H-1B guest-worker visa system is the only way to do it.

Essentially, America is lacking technical skills, so in the short-term the proposed solution is to make it easier to bring immigrant workers on board, while the long-term solution involves getting more students to graduate from colleges with a degree related to a field in science or math. The current national average of students that go into a college with such a major is %17.

There's a whole slew of reasons why this is the case, but I'm going to single out one: the majority of students coming into colleges have a poor mathematics or science background because these courses require rigorous study and application. Young Americans today are surrounded by immediacy (MySpace, YouTube, video games, streaming video, podcasts, blogs [wink-wink] etc.), and it would seem that spending a couple hours each night to learn about differential equations, or to attend classes on why an OLTP RDBMS isn't an optimal back-end to support BI transactions aren't sexy enough activities. While each of us need to take some responsibility, and take a more active role in our lives and understand that our actions affect those around us, there needs to be a stronger partnership with government and business.

Here's what Gates had to say on the issue:
To remain competitive in the global economy, we must build on the success of such schools and commit to an ambitious national agenda for education. Government and businesses can both play a role. Companies must advocate for strong education policies and work with schools to foster interest in science and mathematics and to provide an education that is relevant to the needs of business. Government must work with educators to reform schools and improve educational excellence.
Let's make learning, teaching and business sexy. If for no other reason at all, math and science grads tend to make more money, and Americans find money sexy. I didn't say it folks, that was Harry Warren and Al Dubin, and who are you to argue with them? Who were they? American innovators, of course.

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