2 Million Minutes

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No, that's not how long it feels like we're waiting for a comprehensive manufacturing policy from this administration.

2 Million Minutes is the title of a documentary from 2007, named for the approximate amount of time a student spends in high school. The push of the film is twofold: to compare those 2 million minutes from the perspectives of 6 students in the U.S., China and India; and to exclaim loudly that the U.S. education system is broken - that it is incapable of generating the amount of engineers, scientists and technologists the U.S. economy requires to compete and thrive in the global bouillabaisse.

I was reminded of this film when I read the news today (oh, boy) that we aren't tinkerers anymore.

Check out the trailer for 2 Million Minutes and you'll get the picture:

Now, anyone would have to be a fool or asleep not to agree - at least partly - with the premise of 2 Million Minutes. The clues are all around us. Bill Gates has spent much of his "off-time" pushing government on the need for increased funding for math and science education, as well as revised immigration regulations for the U.S. to maintain its competitive edge.

I acknowledge that our education system is seriously flawed. Technology is progressing at a remarkable pace. Our curricula and techniques are outdated, and we're slow to adjust. But students in countries that 20 years ago couldn't hold our abacus are catching up to us at an alarming rate.

But you know what? I don't buy it - at least, not the fact that the education system is solely to blame for this. It's like saying guns kill people. Yes, they do. But a lot of things lead up to a killing, outside of - and just as important as - the action itself, or instrument used.

Look at manufacturing in the U.S. If you're reading this, odds are you're intimately familiar at how difficult it becomes every year to find talent for the shop floor. You know that it's not just the system that is failing us.

It's the culture, too. Mostly. Very few of us in this society rely on manufacturing each day to survive like we did only a few generations back. When the pump, the door knob, the plow, the wagon or even the car broke, we fixed it because we had to and we knew how.

Fact is, the attraction isn't there. Fewer U.S. students are entering school to become chemists, engineers, and computer scientists. Manufacturing is seen as a path best suited for mouth-breathing Luddites out of step with the times and technology. More now see the road to success paved with abstracts, leisure and bling. Our culture places less emphasis on space programs or smallpox vaccines. Parents, families, peers, media, government and, yes, our education system are all a bit out of whack.

2 Million Minutes was (is?) an important film, with an important message. Heading its warnings can do nothing but help us regain our competitive edge.

But we must acknowledge that the 2 million minutes BEFORE these 2 million minutes are just as important. Otherwise, we're just whistling in the dark.

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