Education as Fuel for Both Society and the Economy
Around the State
Sometimes to know where you are, and maybe where you might be headed, it is good to look back at where you have been.
All too often we tend to ignore past experiences. Perhaps we do this because they remind us of what we have failed to accomplish, fix, adjust, or improve, or maybe just because we think we are just too busy to learn from our past and thus we prefer to stumble along and create “new” solutions.
It is often said that today’s problems are due to yesterday’s solutions. Well, then, it is also true that today’s solutions will create the problems of tomorrow.
I recently went back and re-read Peter Drucker’s "The New Realities," published in 1989 and considered groundbreaking at the time. He captured the evolution in theories about the role of government during the '70s and '80s focusing on moving away from “what government can do” to “what government should do.” In this current economy, perhaps we need to blend these two concepts, deciding how best government should exist and move it away from attempting to be the change agent of society. Government can serve to be as much an obstacle as a stimulus in a modern economy.
There is no question here of ability, that is for another column; rather it is a question of legitimacy. Our concern should be the one raised by Hayek’s "The Fatal Conceit," in the same year as Drucker’s work, 1989, where he argued then that the availability of information makes it impossible for the government to effectively manage or control the economy. We know so much information, all the time, that we lose focus on values.
In the market we confuse the competency of our federal government with the equity value of companies competing in our marketplace; so much so that the quality of goods and services produced and the profitability of a company seem to matter little as the markets go up and down. Government action or inaction provides fuel for trading decisions rather than quality, innovation, and profitability.
In education we often find ourselves embracing the trend of the decade, which then stays along just enough to create school systems constantly a step behind the latest solution. Our bureaucracies often move slower than our policies; however, often our policies are a step behind the market. All this occurs in a never-ending chase after the tail while the dog stays in the same place or moves slightly left or right.
In a recent opinion piece by Jeb Bush and Kevin Warsh in the Wall Street Journal, they propose the need for a grand strategy … big-picture thinking. Sometimes in the development of education policy we begin to think we know what we will need tomorrow, down to the exact degrees required, only to be fooled by changes in research, technology and demand. Frankly, we have a hard time predicting three months down the road in this highly reactive economy.
By using a more focused “grand strategy,” Bush and Warsh propose that we allow ourselves the ability to make necessary adjustments. They stated, “Absent strong growth, any projected improvements in the country's fiscal position won't materialize.” But to grow properly and wisely we must have talent at every end of the educational spectrum. This is where Florida has the ability to leap ahead of other states. We must do different than other states, not copy the theme du jour. We must lead by design, not react to trends.
While the need for degrees in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) is critical to economic evolution, there remains the need for a more broad based educational system that allows for adaptation, creativity, and innovation across the spectrum of fields.
We must remember how Drucker cites Socrates: with the truths that are alive today as the keys to a life worth living involve equipping students with the ability “to present ideas orally and in writing … to work with people … to shape and direct one’s own work …”
Education needs to serve us all as a place and time where it can provide us “lights to help us see and guides to right action.” Florida needs to find better ways to engage our systems of higher education in building a more “grand strategy” for our state that we can then share with our nation. Remembering where we have been might be one key to our future success.
This is a guest opinion column by Ed H. Moore, Ph.D. Moore is president and CEO, Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida.