[October 15, 2015] One of the aspects of Western nations – for some time now – has been for leaders to discourage formal education. In contrast, Asian nations are actually encouraging it aggressively. But in both cases their attitude toward education is very selective, culturally influenced, and resourced based on their social biases. The impact on the success of their nation is predicated on their selective approaches.
As an undergraduate in engineering during the 1970s, my friends and I were nearly all male, white, and middle class. Later, in my year-group of U.S. Army officers, the majority of Engineer Officers were the same. This reflected a cultural pressure that acted to push some of us to the STEM disciplines1 and yet discourage others. No surprise here for anyone paying attention; “boys like math, girls hate math” … we were all told. This self-fulfilling prophecy starts before we enter our first classroom and continues throughout our career. Much can be said of the computer sciences today.
Yet, what is most discouraging to those of us who track leadership and the education of our children and young adults is that many educational and political leaders are actively discouraging both formal education as a valued activity and continue to distort the education system with selective incentives. Despite America and most other Western nations spending huge resources to educate their young, one cannot help but get the impression that not much has changed since my time. The biases still persist but are just different.
In some communities, most notably in large cities, schools have become – some will argue – a baby-sitting service for the most part. Little is learned, discipline not enforced, teaches discouraged, morality shunned, and schooling in a litany of narrow government-directed programs praised. While all academic disciplines have value, there continues to be a push that discourages a STEM education while actively promoting degrees with lesser value; such as gender studies or community activities.
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin
Many actually question whether a college degree is actually worth the money and time any more. During this season’s U.S. presidential debates, the Democratic candidates are pursuing a policy that makes college education free from tuition costs. The idea is to level the playing field between those who can currently afford the high costs versus those who cannot; or so they say. All doors thus remain open, so goes the argument. But it ignores the biases introduced into education from Kindergarten onward.
Furthermore, some colleges are vastly inferior to others. There are students who have graduated from a respected university yet cannot read at more than a 5th grade educational level. It is not my intent to discovery why but to acknowledge that formal education in the United States is a money-making enterprise where the educating of our young has become secondary.
To truly level the playing field in education will requires leaders who are have the moral courage to encourage students to pursue fields of study that add greater value to their community, to society and to themselves. Unfortunately, that will not happen … not in my lifetime anyway. The lesson for leaders is that we need to resist our biases to encourage all young people to pursue education of value.
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