Monday, February 20, 2012

Haley: Our job is to train employees for manufacturers

I can't make this stuff up.

Spend a little time reading about the history of education, public and otherwise, in the South and, after a long hard slog through a lot of ugly history, you'll happen upon what occurred in 1959 in North Carolina.

In truth, North Carolina's public education history was much like ours up to that year, subject to demagoguery and political whims through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But while South Carolina continued on that course like a mule in its row, North Carolina jumped its track and charted a new course.

In the 1950s, North Carolina was home to a deteriorating economic base rooted in tobacco, furniture manufacturing, small-scale farming and textiles, and had the second-lowest per capita income in the nation. The state’s economic future was uncertain.

But in 1959, a group of the state’s brightest political, business and academic leaders created a new future for North Carolina. Together, they worked to create a more sustainable economic base that would carry North Carolina into the 21st century. Drawing upon the strengths and synergies between North Carolina’s academic, government and industry base they created RTP as a place to attract and grow research and development (R&D) operations.

The vision was to provide a ready physical infrastructure that would attract research oriented companies. The advantage of locating in RTP would be that companies could employ the highly-educated local work force and be proximate to the research being conducted by the state’s research universities.

Today, there are more than 170 companies in RTP. The original parcel of land that made up RTP in 1959 consisted of 4,400 acres. Through the years, the Foundation acquired more land, surpassing 5,500 acres by 1979 and totaling nearly 7,000 acres presently. In the same period, the Park’s developed space has increased from only 200,000 square feet in 1960 to more than 22.5 million square feet currently.

More than 38,000 full-time equivalent employees work in RTP with an estimated 10,000 contract workers.

Look at the words: "sustainable economic base," "strengths and synergies," "academic, government and industry base," "attract and grow research and development," "vision," "research-oriented companies," and "highly-educated local work force."

Thanks to the commitment of several visionaries -- Luther Hodges, Terry Sanford and others -- and the steadfast maintenance of that commitment over two generations by Jim Hunt, Jim Martin and Beverly Perdue, North Carolina slipped the shackles of ignorance and has grown amazingly into a state with consistently high ratings for business and industry, education and quality of life.

The key, as these men and women saw it, was education and investment. They foresaw that the old paradigms of cheap labor and manufacturing would keep their state locked in competition with neighboring states, like crabs in a barrel, for the lowest of low-wage jobs -- a perpetual race to the bottom -- with corporate heads always in the catbird seat. So they made the hard choices, made the necessary investment, made the case for high-quality public education, and charted their new course.

Of course, South Carolina took a different tack. We doubled down. We sneered at our too-big-for-their-britches cousins to the North, frowned at their airs and ambitions, pitied their waste of so many dollars to educate their ignorant. To his credit, Governor Dick Riley in the 1970s saw what North Carolina was accomplishing, and without envy, wanted South Carolina to enjoy the same fruits. Riley strained mightily to pull us out of our traces, and he accomplished an amazing legacy.

But as he passed from office, so did the bone-deep commitment to education and investment. Governor Carroll Campbell's efforts illustrated that, like Riley, he wanted the fruits of economic development, and Campbell benefited from the foundation Riley had laid in public education.

It is only polite to skip David Beasley without reference. Since Riley, only Governor Jim Hodges has evinced the deep advocacy for public education as the taproot of South Carolina's growth and prosperity. Serving only one term, Hodges was a tremendous voice for education but was cut short by Mark Sanford's rise. Sanford, of course, and his legislative allies starved public schools, sought to privatize as much as possible, and propped up proposal after proposal as alternatives to public education.

Which brings us to Haley. In her way, Haley is upholding a long and storied heritage of keeping the mass of South Carolinians uneducated and inexpensive.

Plato, founder of the first university in western civilization, used his famous "allegory of the cave" to illustrate the human condition. In "The Republic," Plato said that Man, in his natural state, is chained to a wall at the end of a cave, whose entrance is around a bend and cannot be seen directly. Light enters the mouth of the cave only several hours a day, according to the sun's track across the sky. Chained Man sees shadows upon the cave wall and must interpret those shadows as best he can, based on incomplete knowledge and errant awareness. He lives and dies in ignorance of reality, without ever having seen the source of light through his own eyes, for the full day.

It is the role of the professor, Plato said, to enter the cave, round the bend, unchain Man from his wall and lead him out into light and life.

Plato used the word "professor," but a new word arose in late Middle English, from the Latin verb "educere," meaning "to lead out": educator.

Educators, therefore, share a noble calling: To lead chained intellects out of their darkness and into light. The Apostle Paul understood the sentiment, and perhaps knew of Plato's allegory, when he wrote his first letter to the church at Corinth:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face...

It is the mark of compassionate and progressive civilization that when we know better, we do better.

But, as I am reminded hourly in our fair land, we live in South Carolina. Our heritage despises compassion and progress -- and civilization, for that matter. What was good for North Carolina and every other state is blocked at our borders. As centuries of our history have proven, we want the fruits for ourselves without cultivating the earth with our own hands.

Thus, our governor spoke last week to the state Automotive Council's Manufacturing Summit at Clemson University and doubled down again, emphasizing the need for training, not education.

The difference is not semantic. Dogs, dolphins and even fleas are trained. Saplings are trained. Hair is trained. Toddlers are trained to control their bodily functions. But adult human beings, treated as adult human beings, are worthy of education in every state but ours, in all the developed nations of the world.

GREENVILLE — Gov. Nikki Haley welcomed the 2012 S.C. Automotive Council’s Manufacturing Summit to the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) Thursday and stressed the importance of education to one of the state’s key industrial sectors.

South Carolina is at the heart of manufacturing in the U.S., Haley said. Companies are looking to invest in South Carolina because the state has great things to sell: the cost of doing business is low and South Carolina is a very business-friendly state, she said.

But the state must ensure it has a trained workforce for these manufacturers, and people looking for jobs need to know what certifications they need and how to get certified.

“Companies coming here need to know there is a trained workforce ready to go,” Haley said. “And we must ensure these companies have a trained workforce to help attract them to South Carolina.”

Monkeys, pigeons and rose bushes all share a capacity to accept training.

In South Carolina, it appears, so do adult human beings. According to our governor, it is, in fact, our responsibility as citizens to raise up and train our children to be prepared, compliant, obedient and sufficient workers for their corporate owners.

Who can be our Plato and Dick Riley, and can lead us out of our collective darkness?

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