The images of what went on at the Dozier School for Boys are unspeakable. But as the work that University of South Florida anthropologists are doing has become a national story, Florida’s governor has been silent. Writing in the Miami Herald, Mary Jo Melone speculates why:
Although the Juvenile Justice Department has said it will cooperate further with the University of South Florida researchers — who suspect the existence of a second burial ground at Dozier — the current occupant of the governor’s mansion has been silent as a stone on the subject.
It may be that Gov. Rick Scott still doesn’t understand that much of a governor’s most important work is symbolic, and that it is vital that the man who represents the state represent its highest moral standards in both action and speech.
Or it could be that Gov. Scott knows that if he speaks about the University of South Florida investigators’ findings about Dozier, he’ll get tongue-tied when it’s time to utter the word anthropology.
Last year, the governor complained about how useless the subject was. He was talking about his desire to shift state university spending away from the liberal arts and put the money into science, technology, engineering and math — the so-called STEM fields — because that’s where he believes all the jobs are.
“Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?” Scott asked. “I don’t think so.”
There has been much speculation that the governor singled out anthropology because his daughter holds an undergraduate degree in the field. Perhaps he disapproved and extended his ideas of being a dad and of pleasing a dad to state policy.
Whatever it was, Scott earned the wrath of the American Anthropological Association and anthropology faculty across the state.
Moreover, what came off as his disdain for the liberal arts in general created fear over the future of liberal arts.
Those are the so-called mushy fields, like history, English and psychology, in which people reflect on who we are and what and where we’ve been — on other words, on the human condition.
It’s a subject that also affects the governor, who sometimes needs to be reminded of his own humanity. (Remember testing welfare recipients for drugs?)
This is a bit of a cheap shot, but the episode is nonetheless emblematic of Scott’s naïve, Monday morning quarterbacking of education policy. Scott’s bloviating about STEM jobs led him to sign off on the creation of a new college, Florida Poly Tech, which will just end up as former state senator JD Alexander’s fiefdom. Now comes word that all that screaming and foot stomping from the Florida Chamber of Commerce about STEM careers was, um, pointless screaming and foot stomping. Michael Vazquez has this in the Miami Herald:
As STEM has become an education buzzword in recent years, a steady stream of research has emerged that challenges the notion of STEM as an economic elixir. In some STEM careers, the employment picture is downright lousy.
“Record Unemployment Among Chemists in 2011,” screamed the March headline in Science magazine’s Careers Blog. A headline from June: “What We Need is More Jobs for Scientists.”
Unemployment in STEM fields is still well below the general population (and slightly below college graduates in general). That “record” unemployment for chemists, for example, was 4.6 percent, compared to overall U.S. unemployment at that time of 8.8 percent.
Nevertheless, the glut of workers in some STEM areas (resulting in flat wages, and STEM grads forced to take jobs in non-STEM fields) directly contradicts the widely held view that the United States — and Florida — suffer from a critical shortage of qualified STEM graduates. The truth, many experts say, is more complicated.
“In a general sense, science and innovation do create jobs and drive growth,” said Elizabeth Popp Berman, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Albany whose book Creating the Market University examines the history of university research and its economic impact. “As a nation, having lots of scientists and people inventing stuff is good for us.”
But that doesn’t mean all STEM graduates have a guaranteed job, Berman stressed. The STEM employment picture, Berman said, is “very mixed” and largely dependent upon a student’s particular major. Petroleum engineering majors are doing very well these days; biologists and chemists are not.
Scott’s terribly misguided taunt about anthropologists coupled with his short-sighted ideas about STEM education and careers makes it clear that when it come to education policy, he’s surrounded himself with sycophants. One needs only to attend a state school board meeting to see that there’s a lot of that going around in Florida. No naysayers or other points of view allowed or considered. Let alone even being heard.