A while ago, the president of Arizona State University, Michael Crow, gave a fiery speech to a group of area leaders. As head of the nation's largest public research university he is well aware of the problems facing our society and particularly the educational system. In his speech he did not mince his words. Based on how directly he spoke I think we can assume he isn't running for a political office.
Intrigued by some of what he said, I thought several of his comments were worth repeating, with a thought or two of mine added. My thanks to an article by Sonu Munshi in the Arizona Republic for alerting me to his message.
Mr. Crow said, "A collective arrogant ignorance" holds the nation back. He cited the educational system that's not innovative enough, a lack of awareness or even acknowledgment, of global competition, and a lack of long-term vision. He said we, as a country, are resting on our laurels. "We don't understand ...the development of the rest of the world as competitors. He went on to say " we are the means by which solutions will be derived."
Turning to the educational system, he noted we should be comparing our educational system not with the schools across town, but "with schools internationally." He accused his fellow university presidents of being too focused on the elite students and not thinking of what's best for educating the entire country.
Wow. I wonder what the reaction was in the meeting hall to those thoughts. He pulled no punches in laying blame where he saw it: the lack of appreciation for how the global economy has changed and a certain smugness on our part, the inability of the educational system to stay competitive, and the focus on just the cream of the crop, not everyone who is required to help us compete.
Personally, I believe he has made some extremely important points that more than just 200 people in a conference in suburban Phoenix needed to hear and think about. I was invited to attend but didn't. That was a mistake.
What is your reaction? Is he addressing critical issues that need to be discussed, or is he making things out to be worse than they actually are? Are we living with our collective heads in the sand about the world changes, or are we positioned to continue to lead the world in innovation and technology?
A few weeks ago an article in the Wall Street Journal presented the author's thoughts on why countries that have gotten much richer over the last century have done so. I think she glossed over some of the not-so positive reasons for this massive increase in wealth. But, her central point mirrors what Mr. Crow said: it is ideas and the ability to implement them that propel society forward.
Personally, I think how we treat and pay teachers is shameful. They have direct, immediate, and a lifelong impact on our children. To pay them as little as we do is indefensible. Plus, all the teacher I know spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars from their own pockets each year for their students because there is not enough money in the budget for supplies.
But, that is probably a subject for another post. For our purposes this time, think about the "charge" that we are complacent and set our country's sights too low. Do ideas drive us? Are we losing the global ideas race?