Surveys show that a Republican majority in the House was swept into Congress by voters concerned about the federal deficit, confused about health care reform and angry about the economy, but most especially about the lack of jobs. Repeatedly, they said their top priority was jobs. If that was a mandate, the next election may well be decided by the voters’ perceptions of who is more likely to create jobs.
Job creation certainly has not been the new majority’s first priority. That was to repeal the health care reform. By putting the adjective job-killing in front of the repeal bill’s name, some may have hoped that voters would mistake their ideological mission of destruction for an idea to create jobs. But it would have created not one job. And even the adjective was false. Health care, in fact, is the only sector of the U.S. economy that has steadily created jobs throughout the recession; and the reform, which will bring some 30 million new customers to insurance companies and into doctors’ care, would surely create jobs, not kill them.
How will the 112th Congress create jobs? It is hard to say, but it will take more than merely “undoing” the initiatives of the last Congress. Already some lawmakers are taking the Environmental Protection Agency to task, even though the agency saves lives by working to ensure that corporations do not foul the atmosphere or the nation’s waters and land. The assault will do nothing to create jobs and could impede job creation efforts already in motion.
The government already has sponsored clean-energy initiatives for entrepreneurs; has begun to woo the auto industry away from its oil dependence and toward higher-mileage vehicles, hybrids and electric cars; and has budgeted for public transportation initiatives like high-speed rail projects and other infrastructure improvements. All of these initiatives will put Americans to work. The 111th Congress saw to that. But where are the job creation strategies of the 112th Congress?
Enter the Lists
President Obama’s State of the Union address included a call to compete with China by raising our educational standards, and he challenged the rising generation to enter the lists. “To every young person tonight who’s contemplating their career choice…. If you want to make a difference...become a teacher.”
According to recent studies, the president has underestimated the shabby state of learning in both the high schools and colleges of the country. In New York State only half the high school graduates—in New York City only 23 percent—are ready for college or careers. A new book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, reports that according to a study of 2,000 students in 24 four-year colleges across the country, U.S. colleges are falling behind world competition because the students cannot write.
It is possible to get a degree in business or education, the two most popular majors, without doing much writing. In 10 selected public four-year colleges, out of 41 courses required for an education degree, fewer than four courses required future teachers to write 10 to 19 pages a semester, or at most 1.3 pages week.
Nationally, students spend on average about 12 hours a week studying outside the classroom, and one-third spend under five. Teachers who answer President Obama’s challenge must enter the classroom armed with Thoreau, Hemingway, Joan Didion and E. B. White. They must risk displeasing their own students and require them to read and write.
An Overdue Apology
The 2-year-old boy was baptized Antoine Joseph on May 6, 1798. On that day his godparents, Marie Joseph and Antonio, accompanied his mother, a slave woman known only as Manon, to St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. These names were recorded in ink in the baptismal records of the archdiocese. On Feb. 1 the name of Antoine Joseph was among those made available in another format—the online records of the Archdiocesan Office of Archives. The first five registers, written in Spanish, now on the office’s Web site include the baptismal records of slaves and free people of color in New Orleans from 1777 to 1801. They can be accessed by anyone from anywhere.
The pages are difficult to decipher without the help of additional records, and the process of scanning and preserving the pages was an expensive, painstaking and time-consuming endeavor. Despite this, the project is a worthy one, and not simply for research purposes. The archdiocese saw the launch as an opportunity to recognize the integral role of African-American Catholics in building the city of New Orleans and the church, and to recognize by name some of the thousands of otherwise anonymous slaves. It was also a chance for Archbishop Gregory Aymond to offer an apology on behalf of the church for the fact that the church and some religious orders owned slaves at the time. The publication of these records is also a small but worthwhile step toward the transparency many long for in today’s church. It is a reminder that, though the church may move slowly, it is also an institution capable of admitting its wrongs, learning from its history and moving forward with grace.