"Our young people have to make their way in a global economy that has no interest in our past. The very real challenges they face come from the engineering student in Japan and the microbiologist in China and the computer whiz in India," writes Lucie R. Bridgforth, a retired instructor at Northwest Mississippi Community College and a citizen member of The Commercial Appeal's editorial board. She adds, "...neither warm nostalgia nor lingering grievances nor abstract principles will carve out a place for our students in the 21st century." Wow. Go get 'em, Lucie!
I don't know Ms. Bridgforth, and I am unschooled in the nuances of Mississippi educational politics, the context of her writing. No doubt, there are both serious and complicated issues involved. Multiple generations of poverty, accelerated urbanization, and failed government practices have all contributed to pre-existing prejudices and fears. Of these, among many other American social problems, we are all well aware. However, she hits the nail on the head in general truths with concern to two cultural hot potatoes concerning the education of our youth.
One, the former underdeveloped world, as we all should know by now, is in large part emerging from the past centuries' European colonialism as a competitive force with which our children must contend, and they are coming to America. Immigration reform is therefore a very important public policy issue. Closer to home, we require a broad understanding of other cultures and the diverse people from them whom we now more regularly encounter. It should come as no surprise since Europeans and Americans exported their educational systems, their governmental structures, and their economic models that the foreign colonies emulated, and, in part, adopted much of it to their benefit. The expansionist Romans had the same effect on their world two thousand years ago, and the emerging, acclimating competition from the territories without pressed on the eroding social systems within Rome, and the rest is history: The Decline and Fall of an empire, to be exact.
Lesson One: The competition will copy the best models, and the hungriest, the most disciplined population, will employ what it takes to win. If a bunch of mud-dwelling tribal Goths (my people!) could adapt and grow to challenge Rome those many years ago, then the children in contemporary emerging markets can work to supplant the enviable position of the USA's children as well. As a point of emphasis, I don't want to paint an "us or them" picture. It's not that simple, and for a pretty good read of what our children might face, I suggest James Fallows's recent article in The Atlantic where he argues an intriguing, positive outcome for these changing times. More, my family immigrated to America. So did your family. We are all connected to the same purpose and motive: immigrants seeking opportunity.
Two, Americans will have to change. We will have to sacrifice in more ways than we may initially be willing to sacrifice, building practical bridges among us over our extensive ideological fractures which have polarized and isolated many of us from one another for years. Only in a liberal, benevolent multi-cultural democracy like the USA could citizens ever be allowed the luxury of our privately held passions to be so seriously considered in the public square. We the People, Americans, operate out of a cherished, base presupposition where citizens inherit certain unalienable rights by God, which allow us the open discourse to discuss passionately the heart of our convictions, the reason behind our opinions, and the mutual courtesy to air our persuasions in civil, rational exchange. It has not always been ideal, but the weight of our ideals has historically corrected whatever social ills confront us. No other country in the world with such influence allows for a spirit of change to adjust present policies for the general welfare while supporting the individual's rights to the extent that we do. Ironically, we have become both forgetful and spoiled as a result of these, our unique freedoms.
As we teach the boys here, opposite those Ideals of our pluralistic, democratic republic stand good old power and pragmatism. The ancient "might makes right." Literally, survival of the fittest. Thus, the two divergent options, and one is scarce while the other has long been the standard.
In one hand sits the goal of reasoned, tolerant, diverse community, free to agree and disagree, protected by the rule of law and supported by honest industry and the hard work of seeking our neighbor's best interests for both the individual and corporate good. These are ideals that our boys learn to be bedrock of a democratic republic. In the other hand sits the insular, particular allegiances to our human affinities and the power structures that perpetuate them, damn be the opposition.
To maximize our potential as a nation, particularly within the education discussion, we're going to have to look at the man in the mirror and acknowledge that individually, there is only so much one can do alone. There is obviously no winning strategy with the government’s various plans for the masses as well. However, one person can change, and one can encourage limited, real solutions that make life-altering adjustments for young people that could last generations. See the rich history of American Catholic, independent, and private schools, for an example. One individual's vision often blossomed into bricks and mortar that served generations, and both individuals and the country are clearly better for it.
Attracting a community within MUS of like-minded teachers and student achievers is one such example, and it takes real hard work to pull it off. It's not the right environment for everyone, but it's the perfect environment for serious accountability, structure, and our cherished community of freedom and responsibility under a shared understanding of Honor. Our efforts should give encouragement to others, which over time could spell true education reform in both the public and private sectors. Shoot, just seperate the sexes in all the schools and watch both achievement and personal accountability soar. Maybe that's just a Memphis-centric opinion, a city with a storied history of quality single-sex education which produces good students as well as civic leaders. But I digress. America's widespread educational inequities and the entrenched economic systems which support them will remain, and probably get worse, unless there is individual, entrepreneurial movement towards redirecting the conversation away from the past and collectively acknowledging that we all share more than we may claim, despite our real differences, and we must set nonessential persuasions aside as we regain a sense of who we say we are. Acknowledging a shared culture as a people, as Americans, is the aim toward achieving social systems to improve people's lives.
Foreign students and emerging workers in emerging markets born of very hard work and relentless personal discipline over time (read "mastery of schoolwork with a lot of homework and studying," for one) is what confronts our children in the new globalism. That’s in our face. The singular motivation to escape their poverty and gain their liberty will not subside for children in emerging markets, and, frankly, our children stand in their way. Sorry to crash the Utopia party, but there are only so many leadership positions as the new century unfolds, and some individuals are going to get them while others will not. Our great-grandparents and grandparents knew what focus and what sacrifice was necessary for them in order for our generations today to thrive as they do. The people of emerging markets know this as well.
So, there it is. Let’s see who’s hungry. Many of us here have a few good decades left in us to fight for the boys under our care. we can name numerous people around us whose integrity and service to support our boys is deeply impressive. As for the students, most of them are fighters, strivers who want better for themselves. Some of them prioritize and excel at a high level compared to national peer norms. Others are learning to do so. Some will be at the mercy of the new realities instead of helping to direct them. Whatever the future for them, we're going to try to love these boys into learning what they will need in order to master the self-discipline required for their studies, offering the moral instruction to support their character, and the impressing upon them the courtesy needed to live in diverse community...all of this under a benevolent and merciful God who mysteriously, yet clearly, ordains what comes to pass. I hope that the boys respond to their emerging challenges and that God has mercy, for all of our sakes. Frankly, given this bunch here, we who serve them are optimistic.