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New methods for a new world.

Since tomorrow's successful organizations certainly will be different from what today's generation has known, the U.S. can not afford to rely on old educational methods to prepare for the 21st century.

Those in leadership roles within education today are products of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Their initial value systems and understandings were shaped by a Cold War, pre-computer, pre-space flight, Eurocentric world in which the emergence of television firmly established "Father Knows Best" and "Ozzie and Harriet" as the dominant and preferred family model.

Now, they work each day to educate a post-1970s generation for whom Vietnam, Watergate, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, Jr., are the subjects of history. The Cold War era has been redefined, computers and space are everyday currency, national boundaries increasingly are gateways, and an entire new range of social issues confronts an increasingly diverse population.

Educators' struggle comes into focus most clearly as people consider the future. "Traditional" first-year college students, generally aged 18 and 19, will be 25 years old when the 21st century begins. They will live most of their so-called productive years and all of their increasing number of retirement years in the next century, facing new issues, confronting new problems, discovering new possibilities, and pursuing careers not yet invented.

How shall educators prepare them? How can the products of the mid century working at century's end best educate for a new century, for a new world, and for a new era?

These questions lead to a natural interest in the future, explained very clearly by teacher-astronaut Christa McAuliffe just days before the Challenger disaster, when she said, "I touch the future every day, for I am a teacher."

One view of the 21st-century world begins with the increasing pace of technological advancements and their impact on our daily lives. Consider the following examples:

* Researchers from the National Science Foundation's earthquake mitigation project are working on so-called "smart buildings" that, through a sensor network, actively would respond to seismic vibration. When an earthquake occurs, the sensors will transfer the information to a central computer that analyzes the data and, within one one-hundredth of a second, program the building to respond. The shaking would be suppressed before human beings ever feel it.

* Automobile engineers are at work on a new generation of communication, entertainment, and information centers. These voice-activated mobile offices would accommodate personal computers, video and sound processors, navigation aids, and, at the same time, receive radio, telephone, and computer messages.

* Volkswagen researchers are developing a self-parking car made possible by four-wheel steering technology and laser sensors in a trunk-mounted personal computer.

* Researchers at Nike Shoes are exploring the idea of grinding and pulverizing old shoes into material that can be used in production of new ones, thereby saving landfills from the onslaught of some 776,000,000 used shoes annually.

* Michigan inventor Bill Malson is working on an office water cooler that draws moisture from the air through an advanced dehumidifying system. This futuristic method drastically will cut the cost of traditional bottled water.

Complementing these and thousands of other predicted advances are emerging theories regarding the shape and nature of business organizations - the central engines of the technological and economic future. The evidence of organizational evolution already is here. During the 1980s, the nation's 500 largest industrial firms decreased in size by 3,500,000 employees, while small microchip-equipped companies created 20,000,000 jobs.

Business consultant Edith Weiner concludes that "too many enterprises are currently based on outdated interpretations of the world, its inhabitants, its social structures, and the way markets behave." As a result, Forbes editor Rick Karlgaard has opined that "we are entering an era that will bring about more fundamental change ... than the agricultural revolution and industrial revolution combined. The information age is splitting the world in two. On the winning side will be fast companies. At every turn they will use information as the increasingly powerful, amazingly cheap weapon it is. The losers will never catch up."

So what then of the future? If one accepts these predictions, tomorrow's successful organizations certainly will be different.

William Miller, manager of reliability physics at Sandia National Laboratory, points out the evolution of "virtual corporations" - small and highly specialized companies that are formed to meet a short-term need and disbanded as market conditions fluctuate. Mega corporations, he argues, increasingly will be a thing of the past. Others describe future corporations being "rebuilt" on rolling cycles as short as three years.

Taken together, all of these illustrations and projections point to continued technological progress, enabled by a new era of information-based corporate structures. The work of these organizations will be accomplished increasingly in an international economy.

IBM is the largest exporter of computers from Japan, and General Electric is the top employer in Singapore. Corporations backed by ideas and capital move on a global scale, and only human capital is relatively stationary. Is the U.S. preparing its workforce to participate in this high-tech, worldwide, and rapidly evolving economy?

An agenda for the 1990s

Educators' success relates not only to individual well-being, but also to the basic health of the social fabric. In economic terms, it will determine Americans' collective standard of living and national competitiveness. This leads to the framework for an education agenda for the 1990s.

* Education achievement is more and more crucial as the U.S. seeks to participate fully in the emerging global economy. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich argues that the nation effectively is educating about 20% of its population to participate successfully in this new world order. The remaining 80% has been losing ground economically, and it is this combined workforce that must compete with those from other nations.

* Higher education must be more accessible. In 1975, 26% of children from the bottom economic half of all families were in college. Today, as costs have risen and financial aid has failed to keep pace, that participation rate has dropped to 19%.

* Higher education also must reach more effectively a diverse population. The face of America is changing rapidly, and higher education must reflect that reality.

* Undergraduate higher education should prepare generalists. Those who have to compete in the new global economy must be equipped with the basic skills of communication, research, analysis, and judgment. These individuals must understand the implications of technology and assess its applications and use. Sandia Lab's Miller calls for leaders trained in the liberal arts and able to see the interrelationships among disciplines. Specialization, he maintains, is for the graduate curriculum.

* The enduring problems that must be faced in the century ahead will be social more than technological or economic. Therefore, higher education must train leaders who not only are competent, but who also care. They must understand that their role is not just to make a living, but, ultimately, to contribute to the quality of life around them.

This is not an educator's agenda - it is one for all Americans. Education must be placed at the top of the priority list. Student achievement, particularly in the public schools, definitely is linked to the level of economic support and degree of parental and community involvement in the schools.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Society for the Advancement of Education
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:educational methods
Author:Anderson, Loren J.
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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