Educational Nationalism

| Wed Sep. 10, 2008 1:59 PM EDT

EDUCATIONAL NATIONALISM....Kevin Carey quotes Barack Obama on education:

If we want to keep building the cars of the future here in America, we can't afford to see the number of PhDs in engineering climbing in China, South Korea, and Japan even as it's dropped here in America.

Carey isn't happy with the way Obama phrases this:

I'd like to see this and similar sentiments phrased so it's clear that more PhDs in China, South Korea, Japan, and elsewhere is a good thing that will help America in the long run. The world has many vexing problems and the more smart, well-educated people to solve them, the better. An expanded well-educated class in China and elsewhere will create new markets for the kind of high-value goods and services that America produces, and they'll make newer, better products that we'd like to buy. Perhaps most importantly, they'll improve the lives of people in those countries, which we should all care about.

This comes via Matt Yglesias, who finds this tic even more annoying than Carey does. But I wonder if we're all being a little too high-minded here?

Paul Glastris told me something interesting the other day. He said he had recently read every convention acceptance speech of the past few decades, and that successful candidates invariably framed a significant chunk of their message in nationalistic terms. Sometimes it was military nationalism, sometimes it was economic nationalism, but one way or another successful candidates always framed their message as us vs. them to at least some degree.

Obviously you can argue that this situation is unfortunate — and perhaps it is — but if that's what it takes, then that's what it takes. And Obama's formulation is certainly as benign a form of economic nationalism as you're likely to find. If that's what he needs to say in order to get Americans interested in serious improvements to our educational system, it's a pretty small price to pay.