This morning I was listening to an interview with Lou Gerstner, the former Chairman & CEO of IBM. Mr. Gerstner famous turnaround of IBM is only one of the many amazing roles that he has played in the American business landscape and he has also been a forty-plus year champion for education reform in America.
Mr. Gerstner was speaking about how he turned around IBM, as well as the topics of education and job creation. He provided some very interesting and quite disturbing tidbits of information that allows you to begin to understand, why we are where we are economically in America.
For instance, according to Mr. Gerstner, “30% of high school students do not graduate with their classmates” and according to a representative of the New York school system that Mr. Gerstner quoted, “two-thirds of the students that do graduate on time, are not prepared to begin their college education”. Another exasperating example that Mr. Gerstner quoted was that “of the 100,000 students in seven community colleges in the Chicago area, only 7% would make it through the two years of schooling that would allow them to graduate”.
It is Lou Gerstner’s view that any hope for the improvement of these issues comes down to the participation of the adults involved. This includes the American school systems management, the teachers and the parents.
We need to find ways to have all of the interested parties not only commit to working together, but also to “own up” to their part in the issues at hand.
The members of school management need to recognize the issues of teacher performance. It was frightening to hear that a third of the biology teachers in public schools have never even minored in, let alone majored in the subject that they teach. Common! Think about getting on an airplane and someone over the p.a. system announces, “sorry, we could not find any qualified pilots today, so we went down to Home Depot and found someone to fly the plane”. The other obvious issue is teacher pay. Just like in any other business, the most skilled get paid the best. Well, why can’t we make it a priority to recognize that our teachers are the basis of our country’s future? Do we not want to motivate our teachers to be the best teacher that they can be?
The teachers need to do their part as well. Now, this is not an indictment of all teachers. We all know that there are many fantastic teachers teaching in America, yet I am pretty sure that we all agree that there is a problem with education in our country. We not only need to hold our student to a higher standard, we need to have our teachers focus on teaching those students on how to actually reach those standards. The other day I wrote about Neil de Grasse Tyson from the Museum of Natural History. Now this is a person that I would want teaching my children! It was not only his passion that made me want to write something about him, it was his recognition that there needs to be a fundamental change in how we teach. Our teachers cannot simply show up and provide information. They need to find ways to inspire and create “forces of attraction” to the subjects that they are teaching. They need to show the student the vision of where these subjects apply and encourage them to explore creative ways of using this newly taught information. I know that these are difficult discussions and ideas, but with the “epidemic” education problem that we have in America, it is now time for those involved to do something about it………rather than wait for the latest government mandate.
Now for the Parents. I am sure that I am going to hear it from a few people about this subject. Never the less, we as parents need to “step up” as well. I know that in today’s economy, most families have two working parents and there can be little time to work with your children. However, we are our children’s “trusted source”. We are the people who our children, at least initially, look up to. We need to be the present, interested and engaging. We need to be the “forces of attraction”, the “visionaries” and the “champions of the future”, so our children can see all of the opportunities that are available to them. We are the key people who can show our children what is possible.
So, what does all of this have to do with the economy? For starters, we now live in a global economy. As much as we would like to think, “if we just buy American, everything would take care of itself”, unfortunately is not accurate. We now have to compete on a global stage and we are competing with more educated countries. If we do not do something quickly to fix our K-12 education system, we are setting ourselves up for disaster. If we end up in our country with a society further separated by educated and uneducated people, I don’t have to tell you of the consequences of that scenario.
We cannot afford to wait another thirty years for a study like, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform. Can you believe that it has been thirty years since that study came out and essentially our education system has only become worse?
We are touted as the ”richest county in the world”, yet forty-six million people are on food stamps. How is this possible? Our problems with educational shortfalls, social security, health care and energy independence are problems that we have had for over thirty years. These are not new problems.
We simply have a system in Washington D.C. that has lost the will to lead and make decisions. It is amazing to think that members of either party can wake up in the morning and say, “wow”; we are doing great things here.
The good news; is that we still live in a county with plenty of opportunity. We now, more than ever need to find the will to recognize that before things can get better, there has to be some pain and some difficult decisions. We then need to come together collectively with the will to make the changes necessary to become more competitive in our ever-shrinking world.
I am reminded of a quote from Mother Teresa that stated, “Together we can do great things”. This certainly rings true for America…………….once we develop the will to collectively move forward.