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Instead of “Waiting for Godot”, emphasize vocational and agricultural training
Jeffrey J. Brown, Energy Bulletin
While the Resource Cornucopians are engaged in a furious debate as to whether ultimate cumulative oil production from North America will best be measured in billions, or trillions, of barrels of oil, the US is graduating millions of frequently heavily indebted young people every year, whose college degrees very poorly prepare them for the realities of todays economy.

The principal reality of today’s economy is that we have seen global annual (Brent) crude oil prices double from $55 in 2005 to $111 in 2011, as the developing countries, led by China & India, continue to outbid developed countries like the US for a declining supply of Global Net Exports of oil. While increasing oil production from the US is encouraging, from 2004 to 2010 the combined decline in net oil exports from the seven major net oil exporters in North & South America was about fives times greater than the increase in US total petroleum liquids production (BP data base, 2011 data not yet available).

Instead of “Waiting for Godot,” i.e., waiting for policy makers to acknowledge resource limits, which is something that may not happen, at least for the foreseeable future, perhaps we should work toward fundamental reform of our educational system, with a much stronger emphasis on vocational and agricultural training.
(8 May 2012)

Learning That Works

Joe Klein, TIME Magazine
Vocational education used to be where you sent the dumb kids or the supposed misfits who weren’t suited for classroom learning. It began to fall out of fashion about 40 years ago, in part because it became a civil rights issue: voc-ed was seen as a form of segregation, a convenient dumping ground for minority kids in Northern cities. “That was a real problem,” former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein told me. “And the voc-ed programs were pretty awful. They weren’t training the kids for specific jobs or for certified skills. It really was a waste of time and money.”

Unfortunately, the education establishment’s response to the voc-ed problem only made things worse. Over time, it morphed into the theology that every child should go to college (a four-year liberal-arts college at that) and therefore every child should be required to pursue a college-prep course in high school. The results have been awful. High school dropout rates continue to be a national embarrassment. And most high school graduates are not prepared for the world of work. The unemployment rate for recent high school graduates who are not in school is a stratospheric 33%. The results for even those who go on to higher education are brutal: four-year colleges graduate only about 40% of the students who start them, and two-year community colleges graduate less than that, about 23%. “College for everyone has become a matter of political correctness,” says Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at New York University. “But according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, less than a quarter of new job openings will require a bachelor of arts degree. We’re not training our students for the jobs that actually exist.” Meanwhile, the U.S. has begun to run out of welders, glaziers and auto mechanics–the people who actually keep the place running.

In Arizona and more than a few other states, that is beginning to change. Indeed, the old notion of vocational education has been stood on its head. It’s now called career and technical education (CTE), and it has become a pathway that even some college-bound advanced-placement students are pursuing.
(14 May 2012)
Previously behind paywall, now apparently public.

Young Italians flock to become shepherds

Nick Squires, Telegraph (UK)
Pay is poor and the hours are long, but there is job security, fresh air and as much pecorino cheese as you can eat.

As Italy’s unemployment rate topped 10pc this week, it emerged that young people are flocking to become shepherds. Traditionally the preserve of older men, the profession has recently attracted 3,000 young Italians, according to agricultural body Coldiretti.
They are choosing a simple life in the great outdoors because their aspirations to become doctors, lawyers or engineers have been thwarted by Italy’s negligible economic growth, which has been compounded by grinding austerity measures.
(3 May 2012)

The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps

Stacey Patton, Chronicle of Higher Education
“I am not a welfare queen,” says Melissa Bruninga-Matteau.

That’s how she feels compelled to start a conversation about how she, a white woman with a Ph.D. in medieval history and an adjunct professor, came to rely on food stamps and Medicaid. Ms. Bruninga-Matteau, a 43-year-old single mother who teaches two humanities courses at Yavapai College, in Prescott, Ariz., says the stereotype of the people receiving such aid does not reflect reality. Recipients include growing numbers of people like her, the highly educated, whose advanced degrees have not insulated them from financial hardship.

“I find it horrifying that someone who stands in front of college classes and teaches is on welfare,” she says.

Ms. Bruninga-Matteau grew up in an upper-middle class family in Montana that valued hard work and saw educational achievement as the pathway to a successful career and a prosperous life.

… A record number of people are depending on federally financed food assistance. Food-stamp use increased from an average monthly caseload of 17 million in 2000 to 44 million people in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Web site. Last year, one in six people—almost 50 million Americans, or 15 percent of the population—received food stamps.

Ms. Bruninga-Matteau is part of an often overlooked, and growing, subgroup of Ph.D. recipients, adjunct professors, and other Americans with advanced degrees who have had to apply for food stamps or some other form of government aid since late 2007.

Some are struggling to pay back student loans and cover basic living expenses as they submit scores of applications for a limited pool of full-time academic positions. Others are trying to raise families or pay for their children’s college expenses on the low and fluctuating pay they receive as professors off the tenure track, a group that now makes up 70 percent of faculties.
(6 May 2012)