The American educational paradigm has moved away from developing
citizens to serve their fellow man, critical thinking and development
of self sustaining skills, to an unadulterated pursuit of economic
success at any cost. This can be attributed to the magnitude of current
economic and social change, the rapid evolution of a
knowledge-based/driven economy and the demographic pressures resulting
from an aging as well as a diversifying population.
As a consequence, educational institutions along with their students are more focused on analytical outcomes than on the development of active and productive citizens who are employable, teachable, and adaptable in a dynamic world. Americans must be willing to re-examine the nature, purpose and direction of education in this country. Education must expose students to concepts and ideologies with the aim of developing strategies to confront and defeat the various challenges that face the communities of the world. These challenges are systemic and multifaceted. They must be resolved with holistic strategies that consider the past, evaluate the present, and predict the future. The paradigm of education must be redefined to encompass the spirit of Alvin Toffler who said that the educated of the 21st Century will be ‘he or she who can learn, unlearn and relearn’.
“The Silent Epidemic” a recent study funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, documents a disturbing and ominous trend in America. The study notes that annually, nearly one
third of all public high school students fail to graduate from public high school with their class. A disturbing statistic is that nearly one half of all blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are flunking out. Even more surprising is that, of the students remaining or surviving until graduation, only one-half of those are prepared for college level work. In simple terms, the present day educational system is failing the very people it is suppose to serve: the students.
This study confirms that the dropout problem is a complex and multidimensional issue that well beyond the academic: mentally challenging information to the psychological: students are bored and unmotivated. Students and the educational system occupy two different places at the same time. This is reminiscent of the lyrics of a classic Rhythms and Blues song by The O’Jays, “Your body is here with me, but your mind is on the other side of the town”. The students are showing up to school everyday but their minds, their psyche, and their hearts are somewhere else. If we are to reach them, we must identify their mental coordinates and then reach them wherever they may be. The educational status quo is not working and will continue to fail this group.
The future of America is at stake literally. Students will continue to encounter increasing competition in a knowledge economy where a college degree is becoming entry ticket to the workforce. In the 21st century, American students and employees will continue to be bombarded with new, rapidly developing technologies that will profoundly affect and transform our lives and society. The new opportunities will continue to be primarily concentrated in the technology arena. The current and emerging technology sector will continue to seek and attract highly educated, well-trained and ultra-motivated individuals. These techies will focus on developing technologies, better life as we know it, and produce machines, materials and medicines atom by atom. The synergy of uncommon technologies will continue to give rise to new and exciting technological markets. As they are introduced into our daily lives, advancing technology will create opportunities in philosophy, sociology, political science, and psychology.
Rapidly changing technologies will force many individuals will change jobs three or four times in their career. Today’s student must have a broad based education and training coupled with an understanding of the principles of developing technologies. At the end of the 20th century, new graduates were accustomed to multiple internships and job offers, and ever increasing salary offers. New graduates in the 21st century are experiencing the parallel aftershock of the technology market meltdown and a recession. Thus 21st century students are faced with competing for fewer jobs along with fierce competition from recent graduates and experienced unemployed (or underemployed) individuals. Short-term and long-term career opportunities in the 21st century will be available for those who constantly upgrade their skills and stay ahead of the rapidly changing trends of technology. In the future, society will treat high school drop outs and those lacking formal education increasingly harsh.
In his New York Times best seller “The World is Flat”, Thomas Friedman documents the present and up coming competition from the emerging markets of China and India. China and India are taking aim at America as the World’s Innovation Leader. Over the last ten years, due to the United States inability to supply the country’s technical talent needs, several United States technology companies have recruited talent from the Far East. ‘Outsourcing’ has become a household word as any job that doesn’t require a physical everyday presence may be sent overseas where talent is plentiful and salary is a small fraction of the US cost. When our students dropout, they drop into a world where the available workforce has doubled over the last ten years. They compete with people who have no empathy for their racial, ethnical, or socio-economic background. In the knowledge economy, there are two types of individuals, those in-the-know and those not-in-the-know. Too many of our children are falling or dropping into the not-in-the-know category.
To recapture the heart, soul and minds of our children, we must redefine the educational paradigm. Everyday our children are extolled to aspire to become the next American idol, a dancer with Celebrities, an NBA baller or a hip hop mogul. They are duped into believing that they are entitled to big mansions with multiple luxury cars. This entitlement theme is perpetuated by a constant drumbeat of greed, materialism and unmitigated consumerism on television via music videos and songs. The present day educational paradigm stating that the sole purpose education is for money supports and undergirds the destructive and irresponsible behavior demonstrated by American students. Students learn to want without being held accountable for the discipline, work ethic and dedication necessary to achieve the success to provide such treasures. Before we address the myriad of problems affecting the graduation and success rate of American students success, the community and all stakeholders must agreed on an overarching educational standard to serve as a guiding principle for the effort. Plato said that it’s the purpose given to education that will define mostly everything that follows. Therefore, as long as education is defined as the front row ticket to hedonistic, materialistic, greed and consumerism, all other efforts and interventions will fail because in America there’s a million ways to make money without going to school.
Most people believe that the purpose of education is to ‘get a good job and to make good money’. This myopic view has created a trend that is leading America down a slippery slope of materialism, greed, and immorality. We live in a country where there are 100 million ways to make money and earn a living, all without a formal education. If we accept this materialistic educational paradigm as gospel then anyone earning money is justified in his or her moneymaking endeavor, regardless of the evil or pain it causes. Thus every pimp, drug pusher, thief, unethical public official, and all others earning money by exploiting our children, destroying our communities, and selling unmitigated consumerism and greed, should be allowed to exist unencumbered by the law or society.
The primary purpose of education isn’t to make you money, but to give you the tools and mechanisms to be free: free to create, free to produce, and free to do the things God has ordained and created you to do. As W. E.B. Dubois stated, ‘the purpose of education is not to make men and women into doctors, lawyers, and engineers; the purpose of education is to make doctors, lawyers, and engineers into men and women’. After all, it’s our ability to think and make decisions that separates us from the animals.. Education affords us the ability to develop and expand our personal and collective capacities. Education, therefore, not only gives us skills, it helps to increase our sense of “somebodiness” and purpose.
Only when we bring purpose and service back to education coupled with utility and training will we win back the hearts and souls of our students. Somewhere in the maturation of education, the institution lost sight of the simple and wise adage that my grandmother taught her children. She would always say, “Put something in your head and no one can take that from you.” Such a paradigm is the antithesis of the present day money driven attitude underlying the motivation for education. Service and self-agency are the tenets and essence of motivation in education, when they return, so will our students.