By Scott Robertson
I hear more and more that we are a nation in decline. In the last election, the man who would be president made the idea a focal point of his campaign. “Make America Great Again” strongly implies we aren’t all we used to be. Since his election, I hear the same “nation in decline” refrain from the other side of the political aisle. I’m not going to argue with either side. Our national political scene is a sloppy quagmire of silly divisiveness. Despite having a one-party system of government, we still can’t get things done, and after looking at the current White House occupant and his immediate predecessors, the rest of the world seems to have lost faith in us.
The greatest generation we ain’t.
So where do I look for inspiration? I look to the future and I look local.
The next generation of Northeast Tennesseans has the chance to reclaim the promise my generation has all but cast aside. But even that effort starts with my generation doing something right for a change: ensuring our successors have the chance to grow their own economy.
To that end, the private sector’s investment in making sure this region has a strong workforce in the days and years ahead is heartening. Just within a 30-day span in June, regional business, government and education leaders heard about and/or took part in the development of three different workforce-development related initiatives affecting Northeast Tennessee.
SCORE, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (not to be confused with the Service Corps of Retired Executives, which uses the same acronym) is an organization created by former Tennessee United States Senator Bill Frist. In advance of next year’s gubernatorial election, SCORE is working to create a document similar to the one it put together in 2009. That document, entitled “A Roadmap to Success” was created after the organization crisscrossed the state, holding meetings with business and community leaders regarding ways to improve the effectiveness of public schools.
On June 21, SCORE held a similar meeting with Tri-Cities leaders in the offices of the Kingsport City Schools. “We have a full research and policy team. The research team looks at best practices across the country and the advocacy team seeks to implement those policies at both the local and state levels,” said Taylor Hall, director of outreach. “We measure our success as an organization based on student achievement in Tennessee.
“We create a report every year about what K-12 education in Tennessee should look like. This year is a little bit different, though, because we have the 2018 gubenatorial race coming up, where we know we will have a new governor for the first time in eight years. So we’re going to put out our next report in November, hoping to cast a vision on what Tennesseans say the next governor should be doing in education.”
After around two hours of discussion, Northeast Tennessee’s input was summed up by Richard Kitzmiller, vice president of the Niswonger Foundation, who said the next governor should endeavor to put a similar effort to Governor Haslam’s “Drive to 55” higher education initiative in place for K-12. Lottie Ryans, director of workforce and literacy initiatives for the First Tennessee Development District, added, “I would make that pre-K-12.”
Just days before, Ryans had stood with mayors from across Northeast Tennessee at the Tennessee College for Applied Technology in Elizabethton to celebrate the fact that the eight counties of Northeast Tennessee are now all actively engaged in earning ACT Work Ready Communities status.
Then, on June 27 at the new Blue Cross/Blue Shield building in Johnson City, representatives from Pathways Tennessee, an organization dedicated to providing a framework to get students from middle school seamlessly into the workforce held a Northeast Tennessee organizational meeting.
With opportunities in advanced manufacturing, healthcare and information technology already in place for qualified candidates in Northeast Tennessee, the Pathways initiative seeks to get industry leaders involved in student learning as early as middle school, to help secondary and post-secondary education institutions work together to allow students to bank post-secondary credits and/or industry certifications, and to create multiple entry points into the workforce from there.
It will be up to the students of today to take advantage of the opportunities being put in front of them, of course. But that’s where my generation has the chance to redeem itself.
We need to stop abdicating the raising of the next generation to cell phones and laptops and actually spend time guiding our young people. We should be telling the young people in our lives today about the negative consequences of bad decisions and the potential for prosperity if they choose wisely.
We should be showing our students how our own unhealthy lifestyles have hurt our chances for prosperity. We should be encouraging a return to the work ethic of previous generations of Americans, and discouraging the trend toward complacency that we began.
Most importantly we should be encouraging ambition. We should make it clear that we expect each of our children to pursue and attain better lives than the lives we have lived.
I mentioned the greatest generation earlier. That generation sacrificed to mend the mess made by its predecessors. We must help the next generation mend ours. That’s why we must take action – why we must support initiatives like the ones mentioned above. These are the true first steps toward making America great again.