The education we need

Friday, May 3, 2019

At the end of the Second World War, the average American needed only a fourth grade education to be in the 50th percentile in salary. In the 1990’s, a 12th grade education was necessary to reach the same level. Today, a college graduate earns more than twice as much as someone with less than 12 years of education.

As our graduates prepare to take that step into the next phase of their lives, they are entering an exciting world. A world where society is being recreated. Knowledge will be its key resource, and knowledge workers will be the dominant group in its workforce. Peter Drucker, a writer, teacher, and consultant, identifies three main characteristics of the knowledge-based society:

•Borderlessness, because knowledge travels even more effortlessly than money.

•Upward mobility, available to everyone through easily acquired formal education.

•The potential for failure as well as success. Anyone can acquire the “means of production”, i.e., the knowledge required for the job, but not everyone can win.

Together, those three characteristics will make the knowledge society a highly competitive one, for organizations and individuals alike. Information technology, although only one of many new features of the next society, is already having one hugely important effect: it is allowing knowledge to spread near-instantly, and making it accessible to everyone. Given the ease and speed at which information travels, every institution in the knowledge society—not only businesses but also schools, universities, hospitals and increasingly government agencies too—have to be globally competitive, even though most organizations will continue to be local in their activities and in their markets. This is because the Internet will keep customers everywhere informed on what is available anywhere in the world, and at what price.

It will not be “how much you know” that will be the key to success in this society, but “can you access the knowledge needed?” Do you know where to find the information and do you know how to apply that information? We often speak about the life-long learner. In a knowledge-based economy, continuous learning will be essential to success. If our graduates could take from our schools only one learned trait, I would want that one trait to be the ability to be a continuous, life-long learner.

In our school systems, children begin the job of being formal learners when they enter kindergarten. For our graduates, it seems like a long time ago when they enter that phase of their lives. For us parents, it seems only yesterday that we sent them off for the first day of school. It was a time of joy, apprehension, excitement and fear for both the parents and the child. Graduation brings back some of those same feelings for both.

As I think about our graduates and what they will need to be successful in an ever-changing world, I am reminded of a story a number of years ago about what we learn in kindergarten and how important those lessons are to leading a successful, rewarding life. I don’t know the author, but the words remain true.

Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school.

These are the things I learned:

Share everything.

Play fair.

Don’t hit people.

Put things back where you found them.

Clean up your own mess.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

Wash your hands before you eat.

Flush.

Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Live a balanced life.

Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon.

When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together.

Be aware of wonder.

Remember the little seed in the plastic cup. The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation; Ecology and politics and sane living. Think of what a better world it would be if we all had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nations to always put things back where we found them and clean up our own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.