Education's Race with Change

Article excerpt

EDUCATION has become, at least for the time being, a "hot" topic. President Bush and governors of both parties have pushed education toward the top of the national agenda, while books like "The Closing of the American Mind" have become best sellers. Questions about cultural literacy and minimum requirements dominate the national debate, but the real issues are elsewhere. What does it mean to educate young men and women in a world that takes change for granted?

I have been reading that remarkable autobiography, "The Education of Henry Adams." Living from 1838 to 1918, this great-grandson of one United States president and grandson of another spanned the turning of a century. As he described the influences on him - the Boston State House and Beacon Hill, John Hancock and John Adams - he wondered: "What could become of such a child of the 17th and 18th centuries, when he should wake up to find himself required to play the game of the 20th?" Adams contended that the education of his youth ill prepared him for his adult life. The world had changed around him.

George Kennan sounded a similar note 30 years ago in Hamburg when he said that an individual's life had become too long a span today for the pace of change. He wrote that if someone "lives more than half a century, his familiar world, the world of his youth, fails him like a horse dying under its rider."

Even those of us who are not descended from p know how rapidly the world changes. I still consider myself fairly young and the world I see around me is far different from the one I knew in high school or college. Electric typewriters and erasable paper represented the cutting edge of technology for me, and I'd never heard of brie.

The geopolitical-business world has changed as well. I never dreamed that the Berlin Wall would crack much less crumble, there was no Domino's Pizza to deliver, and we never bought anything "made in Japan." The world of morals and values has changed, too, in good and bad, exhilarating and confusing ways.

As a dean, I often think about the changing world, for we are educating students not merely for graduation but for decades into the future. All of us share with this younger generation the anticipation of spanning not only a century like Henry Adams but a millennium as well. …