Monday, February 04, 2008

American Education and Globalization - Blessing or Curse?

“No generation has had the opportunity, as we now have, to build a global economy that leaves no-one behind. It is a wonderful opportunity, but also a profound responsibility.”
- Bill Clinton

“In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”
- Eric Hoffer

Since my retirement four years ago I’ve had the opportunity to see the world from the outside in rather than from the inside out, as I had during my career with FedEx. In my sixteen professional years I was privileged to be part of a corporation that was one of the tips of the spear of globalization. There were three valuable lessons I took from that experience. First, information is fast becoming the most valuable economic commodity in the developed world. Second, in order to thrive in the world of globalization, people must be the first priority. Third, the strategic challenge for those who intend to be successful in the global economy lies in developing the skills global companies are crying out for.

One of the sad realities I’ve seen since my retirement is that far too many American politicians, educators, and communities seem hell bent on clinging to the old ways. Nothing better illustrates this than the town I live in. I’ve said for years that in order for Emporia, Kansas to thrive once more it’s necessary for us to change our ways, to begin the process of reeducating our current workforce, students, and entrepreneurs to be so that we can take advantage of the enormous economic and cultural potential globalization has opened for us. Here in the Heartland too many in positions of power keep insisting that the key to our success is low wage manufacturing that is highly dependent on unskilled, uneducated labor. The bitter fruits of that neglect here have been high poverty rates, exacerbated by the movements of large corporations from cities like Emporia to communities where there is a pool of low skilled labor willing to do more for less. It's a toxic treadmill.

As the corporations move and the workforce packs up to follow, communities are being left in the backwash. The story of Emporia is being repeated all across rural America. Jobs are lost, the devastating economic toll continues to mount, and leaders lament. Until that deadly cycle is broken the downward trends will continue. Something must change, and it is clear to me that it’s time for leaders to stop lamenting and start doing the things necessary to reverse course.

The key to America’s ability to succeed economically in this globalized world is education. We must develop and nurture the skills that are, and will continue to be, the backbone of this new world. The time for lamenting and trying to turn back the clock has passed.

I’ve read what the Republican candidates have to say about this. While all support education, none other than Mike Huckabee has a firm grasp on where we need to go and how we as a nation need to proceed in this area. His policy position on education is clear, eight on target:

“I believe that every child should have the opportunity for a quality education that teaches the fundamental skills needed to compete in a global economy. As I traveled the country and the world over the last decade bringing jobs to Arkansas, the business leaders I met weren't worried about creating jobs, they were worried about finding skilled and professional workers to fill those jobs.”

Take a few minutes and view the video embedded in the introduction to this post. It presents, in vivid terms, the enormous changes taking place in the world and the inability, to this point, of American educational and political leadership to prepare this generation, and the next, to take advantage of the promise globalization offers.

We need to elect leaders who will not only promise to chart a new course, but also produce the results. Mike Huckabee has demonstrated to me that he is the only candidate who embodies both needs. That’s one of the many reasons I support him. It’s why I will continue to support him.

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