In a recent November issue of Time magazine, two separate articles each pointed to one area that America must focus on in order to improve our country: education.
One article, entitled “What Ever Happened to Upward Mobility,” identified the roles that technology and new markets will play in shaping the future and stated, “The best hope in fighting the machines is to improve education, the factor that is more closely correlated with upward mobility than any other.”
Truly, America’s greatest ideal is that no one’s future is determined by their birth into a particular social class. However, theory does not always hold up perfectly in practice, and the result is that America has fallen behind several other countries in terms of upward mobility.
Author Rana Foroohar examined all the many reasons for this and found that education is the single most comprehensive factor in taking advantage of America’s possibilities for moving up.
Of course, much more could be said about this complex topic. But my purpose here today is simply to remind us that education is the key to the future.
Which brings me to the second article in Time, entitled “When Will We Learn?”
After giving many of the usual negative statistics about America’s current public education system (dropout rates, achievement gap, relation to crime/poverty, where we rank in the world against other developed countries, how much harder Chinese and Korean students work than ours), author Fareed Zakaria offered an interesting solution:
“The U.S. should truly fix its educational system by emphasizing the basics – like hard work – again but also by renewing its distinctly American character. We will succeed not by becoming more Asian but by becoming, as the writer James Fallows put it once, ‘more like us.’ That’s what made America the world’s most dynamic society – and it can make it so again.”
What gives even more weight to Zakaria’s words here is that he went through the Asian educational system up until college. He found that yes, that system gave him a strong foundation base of knowledge and taught him how to study “hard and fast.”
However, he writes, “When I got to the U.S. for college, I found that it had not trained me that well to think. American education at its best teaches you how to solve problems, truly understand the material, question authority, think for yourself, and be creative. It teaches you to learn what you love and to love learning. These are incredibly important values, and they are why the U.S. has been able to maintain an edge in creative industries and innovation in general.”
I think his general assessment is spot on. Interesting, too, that he does not identify our current hyper-focus on standardized testing as a strength. Zakaria realizes what the good educators already know: education is about a love of learning that inspires a person to think for themselves as they solve problems.
In both articles, the authors raise a number of complexities involved in the educational and economic infrastructure of America.
And in both articles, the authors identify simple solutions: create schools that teach our future generations how to work hard and love creative learning.
Let’s go back to keeping that as our primary focus and not let all the other “stuff” get in the way.