Letters to the editor

Educating Americans

I enjoyed the spring issue very much. In President Charles Steger's piece, "The squeeze on higher-education finance," he wrote, "As public sentiment increasingly considers a college education more a private than a public good, we will see less demand for public investments in higher education and more expectation that costs be borne by the users."

I find this very disturbing. It should be axiomatic that a well-educated public is essential for an internationally competitive economy and for a successful democracy, just to name two essentials. It is to everyone's benefit that citizens are educated, and that includes education beyond high school.

Sadly, I see that attitude reflected in letters to the editor in the local paper, especially when there is a referendum on raising taxes to fund education. It is amazing to see the number of people who argue that because they don't have a child in school, they should not be taxed to support public schools. But an educated population benefits all of us. Even with a high-school education, some young people have trouble simply making change for a dollar. And President Bush expects them to successfully manage a private investment account within Social Security?

On another level, too many young people see college as simply job training. They only want to learn what is required for their career. Years ago, people who wanted to appear "cultured" or successful strove for a broad education that included diverse topics such as knowledge of proper English (or whatever their native language), foreign languages, art, geography, history, and other subjects. It is sad that, today, the majority of Americans is shown to be the most poorly educated of any civilized nation. Television and personal observation support this. Americans seem almost blissful in their ignorance.

As an aside, I recall that when I enrolled in Virginia Tech in 1955, the first two years of the general engineering curriculum--which applied to my major, geology--required classes such as Western civilization, public speaking, foreign language, and electives that included art and possibly other liberal arts subjects. (I wish I still had the college catalog that included all that information!) I wonder if such liberal arts are required today.

I am really distressed that so many Americans are almost anti-education. Perhaps that partly explains why so many top students and award winners in the United States are immigrants or first-generation Americans.

I wish I had an answer. Keep up the good work.

Richard Leary '59
Springfield, Ill.

Editor's note: For several decades, Virginia Tech has implemented a "core curriculum" designed to introduce students to a broad range of traditions, modes of thinking, and inquiry. All students are required to complete courses from the core.

ALUMNI QUESTIONquestion mark

Do you have a question about Virginia Tech? Simply write to Virginia Tech Magazine, 105 Media Building, Blacksburg, VA 24061, or send an e-mail to vtmag@vt.edu.

I have a concern about/suggestion for the answer given to the Alumni Question in the Spring 2005 issue regarding the produce that is raised as part of experiments and destroyed because it would be cost prohibitive to harvest/handle and because Virginia Tech doesn't want to compete with local businesses. Could the produce that would be safe for consumption be harvested by volunteers and then distributed to food banks, soup kitchens, and other organizations that are constantly in need of fresh produce and always on tight budgets? It just seems like such a waste to me to throw away food that someone could use.

According to Brinkley Benson, research associate in the Department of Horticulture, although Virginia Tech does not sell the fruits and vegetables, the university does have an ongoing relationship with the local food banks and has worked with their volunteers to harvest various vegetable crops, such as potatoes, broccoli, and tomatoes.