In 2011 Chevron ran a television ad campaign with the name, “We Agree: Science Is Cool.” The commercial cuts back and forth between an employee talking about what Chevron is doing to improve education and a middle school aged student discussing his robotic claw from a school project.
The commercial is clearly aimed at sparking an interest for science in young minds. In a caption to the video they state, “Chevron supports education, especially in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), because preparing students to contribute to the 21st century economy is everyone’s concern” (We Agree).
Exxon mobile ran a similar campaign in 2012 that encourages an improvement to science and technology education by showing that the US came in 17th place in a worldwide standardized science test. With big names like Exxon Mobile and Chevron pouring money into our educational system and promoting education as a higher priority in the US, we cannot help but to be grateful for these companies that are putting our nation’s future leaders in their best interest.
Although before we get too excited about this push for better education we have to understand what is going on behind the scenes, peering through the binary perspective we have all become so accustomed to. These companies are not at all lacking a qualified job force, but instead there is a surplus of labor. Skilled mathematicians and scientists these companies need are already out there. What they are actually concerned about is the price of this labor and profit margins they are capable of attaining instead of having the best interest of the up-and-coming workers in mind.
The problem is that as these big name companies push for more qualified workers in science and math, children are influenced toward unnatural career paths. In order to mitigate this growing problem, students should instead be presented with a more well-rounded education that provides a foundation for any career path they choose creating an overall reorganization of the work force. Businesses are well aware that operating around a surplus of labor, results in low wages for qualified and well-preforming employees, in turn maximizing profits.
While many qualified STEM workers sit confused and jobless, it is clear that the push for such a labor force was never necessary. When a certain field of work is pushed upon an individual they are not able to reach their highest potential due to lack of both intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy leading to an average worker who will be hard pressed to find a job. A free and unbiased presentation of all subjects in primary, k-12, education that allow students to make their own career choices will lead to the highest level of efficiency in the job market.
One common characteristic of a successful person, whether it is a CEO, professional athlete, musician, or government official, is a passion for what they excelled in. Bill Gates never would have accomplished so much by sticking to the beaten path and staying in college like his parents wanted him too. When children are pushed into a certain career field because of parental or some other type of persuasion, the child lacks that kind of passion and motivation they would have had for a career of their choice.
By dissecting a person’s motivations down into two categories, intrinsic and extrinsic, it is easy to see the importance of choice. When a person carries intrinsic motivation, they are naturally interested in the subject and would prefer to go into that field no matter what the extrinsic motivations may be. Extrinsic motivations in this situation can include salary, job outlook, parental approval, and social norms. When a person is able to find work that they are intrinsically motivated to do, they will receive enjoyment and want to work harder and more persistently toward their goals.
A person who fails to have this intrinsic motivation will end up as a second-rate worker and according to Derek Lowe, a veteran drug discovery chemist; mediocre scientists are in the worst position in today’s labor market. He argues that if you want to be “worth your salary” you need to have more to offer (Lowe). By giving children the ability to choose their own career field, raising their intrinsic motivation towards what they do for a living, a larger percentage of people will be “worth their salary” leading to a lower unemployment rate and a more productive work force.
Dissecting the concept of motivation some more, we find ourselves stumbling upon the idea of self-efficacy. Apart from the way motivation is normally thought of, as in having interest in a certain topic, the idea of self-efficacy concludes that the way a person perceives their capability in a certain subject will heavily impact their ambitions. Someone who is pushed into a STEM field may not have that necessary confidence in their work as a mathematician or scientist and may quickly become discouraged and lose the motivation to pursue that career.
Elizabeth Linnenbrink, an associate professor at Duke University, explains that, “Students who have more positive self-efficacy beliefs (i.e., they believe they can do the task) are more likely to work harder, persist, and eventually achieve at higher levels” (Linnenbrink, Pintrich). Students with this personal motivation and confidence are much more likely to excel putting them in a better position to receive a job.
Moreover, a labor force that is generally more persistent and able to reach to higher levels of success will become more productive and stimulate even more job opportunities. In the current job market, many STEM graduate students and PHDs sit with a stagnant postdoc position waiting for an opportunity to pick up a long anticipated faculty position.
Concluding that many times the right person for the job is the one with the most motivation for the field of work, it seems that many of these jobless and indebted students could have been better off in in a different field, one they could have truly excelled in. Just like the free market delivers the highest level of efficiency to the economy, an unbiased primary educational system will lead to the best job market outcome.
Giving young minds the chance to explore all their options in a well-rounded scholastic environment will allow them to make the proper career choice and have the highest level of both intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy for their line of work. This newly organized labor force will be more motivated to solve the world’s problems and push forward, bringing innovation and employment to entirely new levels which can only be accomplished when all the educational propaganda is ended. The reason this false idea has been created about a lack of scientists and the need for improvement in the United States educational system is due to a fundamental economic idea.
This idea is that an oversupply of labor will allow wages to fall and companies like Exxon Mobile and Chevron to gain a larger profit margin without sacrificing the quality of work they receive. With larger competition for a shortage of jobs in STEM fields, applicants will be more desperate for work and will be willing to accept a lower paycheck. Promoting a need for more scientists pushes extra workers into STEM fields, which more often than not creates mediocre scientists who end up in the endless job search.
The people currently sitting in this position today will be the first ones to tell you that this is a real problem reinforced by Derek Lowe’s statement “These people, many of whom have been scrambling to find any work they can, are not a good audience for stories about America’s critical shortage of scientists” (Lowe). It is not until they enter this position between education and the work force that they find out they have been fed propaganda all along and are stuck in a poor situation.
This negative publicity about the United States’ educational system, that pushes so many into an unnatural line of work, is completely unjustified when viewed from a different angle. The U.S. may not have the highest average test scores in the world, but in no way is that a sound argument alone and in no way should changes be made to our educational system based solely on these one-sided statistics. In what other countries can you find such strong public education that is offered to every citizen for thirteen years, including free transportation?
Justin Baeder from Education Week sparks up an argument by ordering, “Do not even begin to compare our scores with the scores of a country that leaves hundreds of thousands of poor rural children without any education whatsoever” (Baeder). Even without looking any further, our education is so far ahead of the rest of the world based on how easily accessible and encompassing the entire system is. If we look at a statistic like tertiary enrollment, the percentage of high school students who move on to enroll in college, we see a very interesting trend; one that won’t usually pop us in the news media.
The United States has the highest tertiary enrollment out of any country while Japan comes into the ranking at number 29 (Tertiary). With over seventy percent of the population educated to the point where they are able to enroll in a tertiary schooling program goes to show how encompassing and effective our education system really is. Unjustly arguing that America needs to improve their educational system continues to increase the problem of an oversupply of STEM workers.
Taking a look at the more popular studies that include statistics comparing countries standardized test scores, we see the opposite trend. These stats are really more like arbitrary numbers tossed up into an article because countries cannot be compared on test scores; the average scores are all relative to the percentage of students taking the test. If only the top percentile students in the United States took these standardized tests, then sure, we would be at the top of this divine list that seems to control education around the world.
According to a study based solely off of standardized tests done by Pearson, a well-known learning company, Japan was ranked as having the 4th best education system while the U.S. lagged behind in 17th place (Best). If the percentage of Japanese citizens taking these tests is so much lower than in the U.S., this statistic is completely irrelevant.
Knowing that these facts presented to us are taking completely out of context and are like comparing apples to oranges, it only becomes more frustrating to think about all the students steered off their natural path to take a busier road; one with a pretty large traffic jam. But if this is so, what about the unemployment in the rest of the career field? One might interject that allowing this complete free choice for students would not make a difference as it is not only the STEM fields that are having an unemployment problem, but the U.S. in general.
As this is true, it does not interfere with the argument at hand. By allowing the students an unbiased education and allowing them to choose the career that they have the most motivation and confidence to enter, it will not only displace students from STEM fields to other fields but it will cause an entire re-organization of the job market. It will create overall better placement of workers into job fields that are more fitting for each individual.
This will allow the job market to be more efficient with better quality workers who have more of a drive to succeed and push forward. A good example of how this does not only pertain to the STEM community, is the fact that so many children are pushed into college just because that’s what the norm seems to be. So many young students wander onto a college campus with the reasoning that everyone does it instead of having the best interest of their future in mind. If we could take away this education bias towards careers that need a college education, more people would be displaced into trade jobs where they could be better suited for work and avoid drowning in student debt.
Although it speaks highly of our educational system that so many people are capable of advancing to the next level after thirteen years of public education, it does not mean that everyone needs to. By creating this more well-rounded educational system, not only will people be displaced to and from the STEM community but also all across the board, allowing our labor force to operate at an optimal level.
I agree: Science is cool. But as that is just my personal opinion, I realize that the more important subject is everyone’s individual goals and aspirations. Instead of forcefully causing people to diverge from their predetermined career path through the use of arbitrary statistics, propaganda and social norms, an educational system should be set up that allows people to make decisions based on their core motivations and opinions. As Robert Frost so keenly remarked in one of his most famous poems, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference” (Frost).
As success is so directly proportional to one’s level of motivation, allowing children to diverge from that main path the world has laid in front of them and take a stroll down the more desirable but possibly less traveled road will allow their ambitions and persistence to skyrocket. In turn, they will be put in the best position for a job and will allow the country as a whole to work at its optimal level. And this will make all the difference. Works Cited
Baeder, Justin. "Why U.S. Schools Are Simply the Best - On Performance - Education Week." Education Week: Blogs. N.p., 22 Oct. 2012. Web. 11 Apr. 2013.