Where have all the young girls gone?
This phrase from the popular song “Where have all the flowers gone” by Pete Seeger in 1961, came to mind this week as I am in Thailand visiting my daughter who is teaching sixth graders their core curriculum subjects in English. I am so proud of her and the other foreign teachers who are here: bright, twenty-something college graduates, citizens of the western world. My daughter is here for at least four reasons: 1. She was tired of using her Honors English credentials (from a top US college) to land bartending and after-school jobs, 2. Promising leads turned into fruitless endeavors (even though she graduated the top of her class) ; 3. She wanted to make a difference where her contribution mattered, and 4. The Thai government and the King have a mandate for all high school graduates by 2020 to be fluent in English. (More about this point later.)
It has been two months since she arrived and my daughter is thriving – she is enthusiastic about life and the future, she eagerly designs lesson plans, and she is passionate about teaching and instilling a love of learning in her students. The challenges of a foreign language, new customs, and classroom discipline (her students are typical unruly 12 year olds) are minor in comparison. It is a great thing for a parent like me to behold!
Opportunities abound – overseas
More and more of our professional young people from the Western world are becoming expatriates, and moving overseas to contribute positively in today’s world. Your response might be, “Good for them, see the world, then they’ll come back home and simply appreciate all they have in America,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. Many of these young superstars may look at the world outside the US with fresh eyes and see opportunities that the US only once provided in the past. More often they read the news from home on the internet and wonder why it took them so long to leave in the first place.
We are no longer the world
As one of the world’s current superpowers, we are failing our youth and continue to be ignorant of the fact that what made our nation great is eroding in corporate greed, survival of the rich, disdain of social welfare, and ignorance. Unemployment hovers as two digits in most states, the American dream is in foreclosure, food stamp distribution is soaring, governments fight for partisan wins, and peaceful demonstrations erupt in police brutality. Europe, at the same time, struggles as their financial house of cards readies to tumble at the slightest wind. The rest of the developing world, meanwhile, progresses towards their own sustainability and adapts to a changing world climate: the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries are propelling ahead in their economies and embracing technology – and English – like never before. Our dollars, while still returning more than half of what we invest overseas (USA today article cites $.55 return on investment for every dollar produced in Chinese goods), are sought by developing nations, whose citizens yearn for our lifestyle and prosperity. On top of this, many Americans have little interest or regard for what is happening beyond our borders. (Take a look at Thomas Friedman’s books from “The World is Flat” to his latest “That Used to be US” for a NYTimes foreign correspondent’s expert view on the diminishing influence of the US in the world.)
Case in point, the third world is embracing English and western ways like never before: Korean universities now offer English language technical curriculums to keep academic spending at home; Chinese universities include golf as a core subject; India and China feature sold-out IT conferences on weekends; and the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) open university lectures are viewed over the internet by thousands of third world students. While the world embraces English as a second or third language, we are struggling with illiteracy with English as our first.
What is happening in the US?
Moreover, what do we offer our nation’s aspiring youth? Unemployment, video games, government ignorance, and outright police violence (with little consequence) when there are peaceful “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations. What is happening in America today? As the upper class professionals shutter their windows to silence the cries of the starving and burgeoning lower class, and the middle class erodes into homelessness while foraging for work, our youth – proud college graduates eager to contribute to our society – are quietly exiting because they cannot find good jobs, or worse, giving up! What kind of America will we have tomorrow if our brightest stars twinkle overseas and make a better world elsewhere? Who will lead our nation into a sustainable future until the politicians finally wake up and realize the poverty and suffering in our own backyard? All of this depends on a government who, for the sake of its people, can suspend the trivial blue-red bickering.
English fluency, a novel thought…
It is very interesting to note that the Thai government mandated English fluency for high school graduates by 2020. What a forward thinking initiative for a country who first language does not even use the western alphabet! Whether or not they meet this goal is secondary to the fact that this Asian nation recognizes that English is the language of business and technology. Can you imagine if the US government mandated this same goal for our schools? As a melting pot nation, I believe that we ought to recognize that English is the international language of business and technology – just so that we can compete in the world. Instead, I believe that we focus so much on political correctness in favor of minority rights that we fail to recognize the benefits we could gain if all of OUR graduates were fluent in English. Just food for thought.
Pride in our youth
You might not agree with me, but the previous observations are real and I do not see the situation for our young people getting better. Open any newspaper today and read about the demonstrations, government corruption, crime, economic distress, foreclosure nightmares, whining of the rich/poor, national woes and international wars, but nowhere will you see the success stories about our youth abroad and the strides they are taking for other nations. I am proud of our youth who have the fortitude to demonstrate peacefully at home, study relentlessly to earn their degrees, work at sub-poverty jobs to make ends meet hoping to score a job where they can use their skills, and then finally emigrate overseas where their contributions are truly valued.
Our youth should be our pride and joy and a priority. If we can’t wake up our nation’s leaders to the value and the incredible contributions our youth could make at home for a decent wage, we ought to applaud the rest of the world for doing so. It may take our government years to glance up from their Republican / Democrat score sheet and realize what is happening, but when they do, it may be too late. As more of our nation’s youth move abroad while the youth of other nations study at home, it is only a matter of time before we import more than we export. Maybe then, someone in power will look around and ask, “Where have all the young girls gone?”
Wishing you a healthy and productive week!