Miller, among friends, talks education

Before an approving audience at Contra Costa College, Congressman George Miller firmly aligned himself with President Barack Obama.

“In the middle of this economic chaos,” he said, “this president knows we can’t compete in a world economy unless we modernize some of our basic systems.”

If Miller was worried about predicted losses in the House to the Republican Party, he didn’t show it, focusing instead on education and job challenges in California.

The congressman, who is Chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, drew connections between education reform, student loan industry reform, and the energy jobs market within California.

Improving education, he noted, shouldn’t cost more, but less. “We’re sending billions and billions of dollars overseas to import foreign oil,” he said, “and we’re not exploiting the talent and technology and the innovation of this country.”

“When we meet with the high tech and biotech companies we ask, ‘where’s the next bet on the jobs of the future?’ Miller said. “And they said energy.”

But for Americans to compete in this burgeoning job market, Miller said, “We need to modernize the education system.”

“We teach kids to sit down and shut up for 45 minutes in a classroom. That’s a great model,” he mused sarcastically. “It was developed in the 1800s.”

Creating a new standard educational model should incorporate the way that young people share information, he said.

Congressman George Miller said the country's education system is a 19th century model. "We need to modernize our education system," he said.

“All of you create a huge amount of content every day, you teach your peers how to use that new phone, that new program,” he said. “How do we call on people to participate in the educational process who are your peers?”

Miller has focused recent work on raising incentives to graduate college by easing the burden of student loans.

“About half the people that show up for community college, they don’t show up for the second year,” Miller said. “They don’t get the certificate they’re after, they don’t get the career opportunity, they don’t get the academic degree they were after and they may end up in debt.”

Miller spoke in detail about recent reforms to the student loan industry. Subsidies worth $60 billion will be diverted over ten years from banks, which manage loans, to students in the form of grants and federal loans.

The new law, he explained, also rewards those pursuing public service jobs. “If you get in the public health and education sectors, after ten years your loans go away,” he said, “because you’re giving something back.”

As for the growing renewable energy industry, Miller likened it to telecommunications in the 1970s and ’80s, in that it requires a new generation of skills and knowledge. Many people who’ve completed their education, he suggested, will not be competing for these kinds of jobs.

“I am not going to be the one doing this work,” Miller said. “You are.”

First elected as a representative in 1975, Miller enjoys one of the safest seats in congress. He’s up for reelection, facing a challenge by Republican Rick Tubbs, but barely mentioned the competition during the hour-long session.

“I’m the most transparent politician there is,” he said. “I found it has worked well for me.”

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