While unemployment is a problem in the United States, there are actually several fields in which workers are in short supply. These fields tend to be in technical, scientific and math heavy areas (such as engineering). As might be imagined, companies like Exxon Mobile need highly educated workers in order to operate. However, educators tend to support Democratic candidates and are often perceived as political liberals. These facts help explain why Exxon Mobile has been presenting advertisements praising teachers at the same time teacher bashing and education budget slashing is very much in vogue in certain political circles. This creates something of a challenge for the right: how do they destroy the generally pro-Democratic teachers’ unions and slash budgets while at the same time ensuring that the corporations have the educated job fillers that they need?Being an educator, I noticed when Exxon Mobile began running what seemed to be pro-teacher advertisements. I had also noticed when many states cut their education budgets and the concerted attacks on teacher’s unions. This juxtaposition of pro-teacher and anti-teacher got me thinking about how the right was at odds with the right in many key areas.Interestingly, while education budgets in my own state of Florida have been cut, there has been a very strong push for STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) education. In fact, my university recently split the college of arts and sciences so that the sciences would have their own college, thus allowing the budget to be split. By supporting the STEM programs and starving the other programs, the dilemma can be solved: the job creators get their job fillers while the education budgets can be cut on the backs of non-STEM programs.
Of course, this is not a perfect solution. After all, the budget cuts to public and higher education do damage to education across the board. As such, even if STEM is pushed and funded, schools and students will still be lacking because of the cuts to other areas. Also, attempts to destroy educators’ unions and to demonize educators have a negative impact across the board. As such, the right still faces a serious challenge here: the budget slashers and anti-education folks are at odds with those who are well aware that the job creators need educated job fillers.
One solution to employee shortages that the United States has long relied on is getting people from outside the country. For quite some time the United States did this very well, even to the point that it was creating a brain drain on the rest of the world. The United States still welcomes many foreign students to the top schools and our graduate programs are producing top people. However, this solution to the problem of a shortage of STEM professionals runs afoul of the views of a significant portion of the United States’ right. Thanks to the fear generated by 9/11 and what appears to be a blend of xenophobia and racism, there is a significant political push against immigration and foreign workers-even in the STEM fields. This has resulted in severe limits on the number of foreign workers and immigrants allowed to remain in the United States. We are literally graduating the people we need and then booting them out. As might be imagined, corporations are doing what they can to work around this problem-generally by setting up offices in places where such talent is more welcome (such as Canada). In short, the xenophobia of some folks on the right is running afoul of the needs of the fiscal conservatives who support corporations. This does raise the question as to whether or not corporations will push for immigration reform to get the people they need or decide not to do so to avoid antagonizing the anti-immigration base they need to support their candidates.
Another related problem is the fact that while critical thinking, scientific thinking, creative thinking and problem solving skills are in demand, the United States is doing poorly in all these areas. One reason (among many) for this is the slashing of education budgets and the attacks on educators. Another reason is the increase in anti-intellectualism in the Republican party. Bashing experts, intellectuals, education and science has become a standard tactic on the part of very influential elements of this party. These attacks are typically either religious based (to support creationism and other religious doctrines) or politically/economically based (bashing environmental science regarding climate change, pollutants and so on). While the left does have its share of anti-intellectuals, these folks are the fringe of the left and have rather limited influence. In start contrast, the Republican party seems to be steered by what were once the fringe elements. One nice bit of irony is that while the fossil fuel companies and others have a vested interest in waging a war against climate science, environmental science, scientific thinking and critical thinking, they also need critical thinkers and scientists. Ideally, of course, they would get people who can do good science and critical thinking while at the same time going along with the political and economic agendas that require denying scientific evidence.