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No emperor, two centuries ago, possessed the wealth of intellectual resources that the average citizen does today. Where an emperor had a few court musicians at his disposal, I have Beethoven, B.B. King and the Beatles sitting on my CD shelf, eagerly awaiting my beck and call. Nor do I ever have to wait for a troupe of players to come to town and put on their meager repertoire. If nothing on the forty-six cable channels strikes my fancy at the moment, thousands of other options are two minutes away at the video store. And, rather than waiting for an emissary or spy to bring me news from a neighboring principality, I can simply switch on CNN. While all of this is wonderful on its own, the best part is that I can have all this wealth without being constantly pestered by obsequious courtiers.
The Constitutional Congress laid part of the groundwork for this abundance by giving Congress the power “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,” through copyrights and patents. The other vital factor lies in universal education — expanding the ability of all citizens both to create intellectual properties as well as appreciate those created by others. Each of these actions must be secured and preserved to ensure this abundance continues for ourselves and those to come.
This newsletter issue deals with the first part of the equation, what is being done to enforce copyrights. The second factor, education, needs some serious help. On April 6, the Department of Education released a report on fourth grade reading tests. The scores showed no overall national progress since 1992, and there was a decline for some segments of the population. As Education Secretary Rod Paige summarized the results, “After decades of business-as-usual school reform, too many of our nation’s children still cannot read. After spending $125 billion of Title I money over 25 years, we have virtually nothing to show for it. Fewer than a third of fourth graders can read at grade level.”
These students are the people who will be creating the products and services we will all be using in a few years. They are the associates who will be adding to or limiting your partnership bonuses. They are the jurors who will decide the outcome of your complex litigation. They are the foundation of the economy you will depend on after you retire.
Fortunately abysmal reading skills are not a necessary part of life. Government studies have repeatedly demonstrated that an education founded in phonics, coupled with a rich exposure to literature, dramatically improves a child’s ability to read. I have personally seen this to be true because they are two factors used by the school my children attend. In standardized reading tests, the students there score, on the average, a full year ahead of their level by fourth grade. By the time the students are fourteen, they are reading at college level.
If you have children in a school that does not base its education on these principles, I urge you to apply any pressure you can to get the curriculum changed. It is possible to have children who are eager to learn rather than hate going to school. The difference not only benefits you and them, but also determines the nature of the society we will all be living in down the road.
We can’t afford to waste these precious intellectual resources.