Televised “man on the street” interviews, which are often the source of much laughter, are also frequently quite disturbing. Basic questions are asked about significant or historical events, and it becomes rapidly apparent that many of our fellow citizens have not applied themselves to the acquisition of knowledge and basic information.
The founders of our nation were extraordinarily well educated and emphasized the fact that our system of governance requires an informed populace. Obviously, people who are well informed are likely to be contributors to society and are more likely to hold their representatives responsible for what they do in Washington.
It is also true that there is a strong correlation between educational attainment and lifestyle. According to a 2011 study by the College Board, high school dropouts have an annual median salary of $25,100. Those with a high school diploma average $35,400. Those with an associate degree average $44,800, while those with a bachelor’s degree average $56,500. Those with master’s degrees average $70,000, while those with doctoral level degrees average $91,000, and those with professional degrees average $102,200 per year. It should also be noted that skilled laborers fit solidly into the middle class with salaries averaging in the mid-five-figure to low-six-figure range. These are averages and, of course, some people make considerably more.
One obvious question is how can we increase the number of people graduating from high school and seeking higher education. This is particularly important in our inner cities were public high school graduation rates are often less than 70 percent. The graduation rates from private and charter schools tend to be significantly higher and the home-schoolers are almost universally achieving at a very high level. In most cases, home-schoolers have very dedicated parents who have the ability and resources to provide such an enriched educational environment. This simply is not an option for the vast majority of students. However, charter schools and private schools can be made available through vouchers or the involvement of the private-sector, church and charitable organizations. As a society, we must be willing to recognize what is working and what is not working, and to appropriately place our resources to get the biggest bang for the buck.
There has been much talk recently about providing free community college education. First of all, it is only free if no one has to pay for it. It is not free if we rob Peter to pay Paul. Secondly, Pell grants already exist to pay for community college expenses for needy students. For those who are not needy, there is an old-fashioned remedy that is very effective called work. In fact work might even be beneficial for those who are needy. It certainly provided some very valuable experiences for me.
It is time for us to begin to emphasize to students that the person who has the most to do with what happens to him in life is himself. The average person lives to be about 80 years of age and the first 20 to 25 years are spent either preparing or not preparing for the future. If you prepare well, you have 55 to 60 years to reap the benefits. If you prepare poorly, you have 55 to 60 years to suffer the consequences. It will not hurt our young people to hear these kinds of words. When we reinject personal responsibility into life lessons, we will strengthen our society.
• Ben S. Carson is author of the book “One Vote: Make Your Voice Heard” (Tyndale).