March 6, 2021

Never Be Satisfied With How Things Are



 Several years 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 was well aware of the problems facing our society and particularly the educational system. In his speech, he did not mince his words. 

Recently, I was rereading his thoughts and it struck me: his unflinching assessment of the root causes of some of our most pressing problems as a country fits like a glove today. 

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.

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.

It is no news that for the last four years, America has turned inward. Internationalism has been replaced with populism. Global alliances have been shredded. Many have expressed the belief that American exceptionalism renders what others do unimportant or unnecessary. Tariffs will bring other countries to our will. If that doesn't work, threats are always available.

Without plowing toxic soil all over again, the election last fall made it clear that the majority of us said, "Enough."  The inward focus, rejection of basic science and facts, and turning our country into an isolated one, have caused damage and death on a massive scale. We are open to a new direction.

Mr. Crow's comments in 2011 were on target then, and even more so today. As a society, we must stop believing the lies and misconceptions we tell ourselves. Reality doesn't care if the truth is inconvenient, or hurts. 

Our competition is not just within and between our 50 states, but virtually every corner of the globe. This is true not only in an immediate economic sense but in things like innovation, educational training, and technological advances. 

We must take the attitude that resting on our laurels, believing our own systems and approaches are the best in the world will lead to us slipping well below the top rung of success. We run the risk of losing the top talent and innovators to other countries who encourage breaking out of what is in the quest for what could be.

Let's end on a very positive note: The development of just not, but three Covid vaccines at a speed that has never happened before shows what can be accomplished when powerful forces work together to find the solution a very serious problem.

We have the ability to tackle anything before us, but only if we are never satisfied the way things are...but, rather how they could be.

31 comments:

  1. So true! China has for years been building infrastructure all over the world and forging strong relations with other countries; meantime, we keep spending our wealth/treasure on the military all over the world and not even preserving or building our own infrastructure, which is falling apart everywhere. Our airports, for example, are a disgrace. Just pathetic.

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    1. I have some degree of hope that Mr. Biden's pledge to work on our infrastructure will have more substance than the former guy. Most Americans would rather we put the next trillion dollars earmarked for the never-ending crisis in the Mideast into our own roads, airports, electric grid (Think Texas) and water distribution systems.

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  2. Marvelous post!

    Our education system—the pandemic aside—is letting our nation down. Thank goodness there are individual educators by the tens of thousands who buck the system in the best interests of their students.

    If you want to help keep us competitive, I'd urge you to tutor or mentor one promising child (I don't mean a grandchild). You can help him or her overcome the education system's deficiencies more than you can imagine. There are nonprofits in every city and town that will connect you with a deserving student and guide you, if tutoring feels unnatural.

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    1. I felt a little of the power of mentoring when I worked with 5th graders through the Junior Achievement program. A none-on-one relationship can be even more impactful.

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  3. Nice post Bob. I agree with you and Goodly that our education system is our long-term way out of the tragedy of proud ignorance. No, it won't happen overnight as many want. Our country has been in this mode for too long. We will never again be the true leaders of the world until we finally recognize the value of truth, intelligence and wisdom.

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    1. With at least a third of the country still believing the lies about the last election, we have a hard row to hoe. Basic understandings of truth, logic, science, and the real problems we face will not happen without dedicated teachers, parents, and public officials.

      Anything we can do to support our education system will pay enormous benefits in the future.

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  4. One of your best Bob..innovation and passion can overcome any obstacle!

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  5. We have so much potential in this country. We just need to get past the idea that we are superior to the rest of the world. I think international travel helps, but of course many people never do that. Seeing other cultures is eye opening if you've been told your country is the best and the biggest and brightest. We have a lot of educational work to do. Great post.

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    1. I read this morning that China now has the biggest Navy in the world. I pray that the fine folks at the Pentagon don't take that as a challenge to get into a ship-building frenzy. It is likely future conflicts will primarily involve cyber weapons' and computer manipulations, not "boots on the ground."

      We have spent more than enough of our resources on unnecessary and endless conflicts. We need our best brains and minds working on what will shape our world, and that is not likely to involve tanks and guns.

      It will involve building a stronger educational system and understanding the ties that bind us to everyone else on this planet.

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  6. My son works in a local community college and tells me that the number of students who are paying tuition and placed into classrooms,without being able to have the appropriate reading and math skills, is like robbery. They can’t keep up. He tells me the college cannot keep up with the remedial programs needed to just bring students up to basic reading and math levels so they can partake in an English 101 class or an Algebra 1 class. This speaks to our middle schools and high schools, doesn’t it?? That is scary to me, that many “college students” cannot read at 6th grade level. Yes, we need to upgrade education as well as health care in our country.

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    1. It will be interesting to see what the past year of homeschooling has meant to the educational progress of your young people. Parents are not trained to teach, but the one-on-one nature of home schooling may result in a renewed interest in learning in the child, and a better understanding of the importance of teachers and curriculum by the parents.

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  7. Where I live, the elitism starts at preschool. We are one of only four states that has no preschool program (and kindergarten is not required). This week the legislature turned down a $6.6 million grant for preschool education, citing indoctrination into social justice ideas. One guy got up and said it would let mothers leave the home when they should be home with their children. He made a hollow apology the next day. So only kids whose parents can afford private preschool will be able to attend in most communities around our state. It's no wonder we're also at the bottom in kids going on to college.

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    1. Indoctrination into social justice ideas" is a bad thing? Learning about human rights and equality is as no-no? Wow. That is breathtakingly stupid and counter-productive.

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  8. Bob,
    You made a great point on how worldwide cooperation resulted in the many COVID 19 vaccines. With everything going on in the world, we will need that same cooperation to work on issues such as global climate change, hunger, poverty and energy to name just a few. No one country can solve any of this issues by itself.

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    1. You are right: global problems take global solutions, even if many of the folks in Washington don't understand that basic fact.

      Mitch, I have added your blog to my blogroll...keep up the good work!

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  9. What and interesting read! Mr. Crow seems to hit the nail on the head.

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  10. After more than thirty years teaching college students, I retired with the conviction that we have become the most entertained, least informed western democracy. In my last years I had some of the brightest, most capable students I ever had, but that group seemingly became smaller every year. The disinvestment in higher education in the '90s forced the colleges and universities to rely increasingly on tuition for much of their funding. As a result, I watched "students" transformed into "clients" and "customers," most of whom would emerge from their degree program with enormous student loan debt... if they managed to complete their degree. The focus of many students and their parents shifted from seeking an opportunity for a broad education with emphasis on critical thinking, to largely vocational/professional degree programs: "where can I make the most money?"

    It all finally became too much, and I retired. It will take inspirational political leaders who value funding for education, science, and citizenship development to turn this around. I try to maintain some optimism, but it gets harder with every passing year.

    Rick in Oregon

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    1. I was in college from 1967-1971. That world was not about getting job, but about thinking and learning. Even occupying the Administration Building in protest to the Vietnam War was part of that education. My major, International Relations, really had nothing to do with what my career path would become, but chosen for how broad an education it gave me.

      But, to your point, by the time my daughters attended college in the mid-late 1990's it was really about becoming trained for employment in a particular field, and that continues today.

      I know someone who is still paying off her student loan 35 years after graduating. That kind of burden on anyone should be unnecessary.

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  11. This has been decades in the making, and you know that. Arizona has charter schools that push the regular public schools to a different level, but neither push themselves to the level of private schools.
    We divested from the science of teaching because publishers push the curriculum, with professors being the "advisors/writers". If methods change, so does the need to get new "books". We seem to be more then happy to jump off new bridges. US loves our local schools, no matter how poorly they are run.
    European method does not "teach reading" until age seven, following research. Most of the world teaches rote memory information through the third grade, following research. They then teach application of rote memory beginning in fourth grade. My friend's children took their first physics class in sixth grade!
    The next part is painful. Most of the world only promotes about 10% of their children to "University". University is then paid for. Everyone else has the opportunity to test in - but are otherwise trained in a trade (from elementary teachers to nurses to banking to sales to electrician)
    The US spends SO much money on education for the lowest 10%, The 10% that the rest of the world puts their money into is left to fend for themselves.
    If we put all the emphasis in early childhood--and gave everyone a good start from Pre K to fourth grades. PreK (voluntary in most. of the world- parents are encouraged to stay home with cash incentives) and K would be on the growth of vocabulary (the single predictor of school success is the amount of vocabulary at the beginning of teaching reading), phonemic awareness and sturdy number sense. Grades 1-3 are learning how to read, learn and manipulate our language (and a second one), teach math (verbally, hands on and sight) with rote memory being emphasis, and continue to develop vocabulary. Then at grade four we take a hard look at kiddos. Division is hard. WE don't like to think that our Joe is not as able to move into the University.
    I know, I am a pessimist, but I understand lobbying. I watched this process from the classroom. testing and publishing window. The new amount of money given to schools will, I assure you, be wasted. I live in a place that STILL does not have schools open- even for one day a week.
    The US has done the research, but publishers are anxious to get their money out of the system. "We" will spend money on see through face masks, "academic coaches", "racial equity coaches" six foot lined floors, pensions, AI written computer programs and such. No implementation of what really gets kids on par with the world.
    In a few years our 8th graders (100%) will be tested against the world 8th graders (10%) and we will look like we are behind the curve. You and I will write another one of these posts claiming that some politician messed things up, again. Sigh. That is why the private and overseas schools are kicking our education system in the behind. IMHO of course.

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    1. I have a hard time disagreeing with anything you say. Like our health care system, education is too dependent on profit and loss and following the system, rather than encouraging creativity and imagination development.

      A comment above made we check the Internet: There are seven U.S. states that do not provide preschool or pre-K education funding. Is it any wonder we all have the latest cell phones, but have no idea where most of the states are on a map?

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  12. Wow, Bob, you take on the big issues! But aren't the key questions: Why are we not innovative enough? Why do we ignore international competition? How can we create a long-term vision? I honestly don't know much about what goes on in education today. But when I was in college in the '60s and '70s, and when my kids were in college in the early 2000s, it seemed like too many kids went to college to learn how to drink, not learn how to think. And that leads me to believe that perhaps we SHOULD focus on the brightest students, who will lead the way in medicine, technology, the environment, AI, and also in political science, psychology, ethics, and then focus on more practical skills for the majority of students who are really not interested in high-level intellectual pursuits but who want and need a job that requires training, skills and know-how -- nurses, teachers, police and fire, bureaucrats and administrators . . . and translators. The schools could surely figure out a better way to teach foreign languages.

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    1. This may not be entirely accurate, but I would guess that of all the developed countries, we have the lowest percentage of citizens who can speak or understand more than one language.

      Hopefully, tech schools and those that train people in specialized skills that don't require four years are more mainstream in acceptance.

      In my day, you went to college...that was the only socially acceptible choice. Now, people have a better understanding of matching the training to the person. College is not needed for the majority of people after high school, nor is the tremendous debt.

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  13. I definitely agree we need to improve the K-12 educational system. We only have a 75% graduation rate. I looked up the statistics on completion of a bachelors degree. It looks like USA is 12th at about 40%. Most other countries are close to 40% or above. The two notable exceptions are Austria and Germany. Perhaps that is related to apprenticeship programs.
    I notice a couple of comments that might have indicated nursing does not require a 4 year degree. The educational requirements to be an RN are changing rapidly. Many hospitals will only hire a small percentage of associate vs bachelor degreed RNs each year. It is skewing more heavily to a bachelor's degree every year. If a nurse wants to move into management it is almost impossible with an associate's degree. Most management positions require a masters and every year the number with a PhD increases.

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    1. In that field, the more education the better.

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  14. Excellent post and the republicans are going to fight the improvement of education in science, accurate history and civics every step of the way. When a large group of people are trying to suppress voting rights, this will never bode well for education, global understanding of the world or fair and equal treatment for all citizens. Without the last two, education will be ineffective.

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    1. I am not sure I will ever really understand the GOP's insistence on being on the wrong side of history on virtually every subject and unstoppable population trends. Why is trying to weaken Democracy and keep certain segments of the population in poverty and unprepared for the future a wise plan?

      It is like sticking your finger in the dike, when the tidal wave of change has already washed away a big chuck of the wall.

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  15. Dr. Crow sounds like a very wise university president. Good for him for having the courage to speak up on topics that must have been unpopular with many people. Insularity and arrogance are not stances that serve any country well over the long term. From my perspective as a former Canadian university professor of education, I believe that the financial disinvestment in education at all levels and the swing toward “accountability” in education that began under Reagan have had a very negative consequence in the USA. Poor critical thinking skills, lack of understanding of science, and scorn for expertise are some of the outcomes that we are now seeing in a broad segment of the population, which, as you say, Bob, does not position your country well for success at the international level.

    Jude

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    1. Recently I watched an interesting (and disturbing) show about the decline of colleges in this country. The level of debt many students have after school is unacceptable. The cost of too many institutions of higher learning have made them a possibility only for those who come from wealthy families or are willing to saddle themselves for 20 or 30 years of loan payments.

      The belief that a 4 year college or university degree is necessary for success is flat out wrong. There are so many paths for young people to follow for fulfillment and financial security that do not require that traditional choice.

      At the same time, the anti-intellectual turn has tremendously negative consequences for our country's future. Too many of us allow emotional reactions to determine our lives. As you note, critical thinking has become a lost art.

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    2. Of course, we are seeing similar trends here in Canada, just not quite so extreme.

      Jude

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