Education in the Ether

Mark Milliron Catalytic Conversations Civitas Learning Space

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Just in the last few weeks, Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer-prize winning columnist for the NY Times and author of the best-selling The World is Flat (which is an absolute must read for anyone interested in learning, leadership, economic development, and global affairs) has been ringing the education bell. First he noted the key role that education is playing in the future plans and rapidly expanding economies of India and China. The article was titled Worried About India’ s and China’ s Booms? So Are They. The main point: we’re worried about them, they’re worried about education—much more than we seem to be. In particular, they are interested in expanding their educational systems to allow for more creative thinking, innovation, and broader literacy skills. Then yesterday, he released a columned entitled Facts and Folly, noting that the Bush administration’s consistent belief that we will “always be a rich country” is belied by the fact that our educational system is in disarray, full of underpaid and overstretched teachers. He noted the work of the Teaching Commission, an organization that has sounded the clarion call for more and more qualified teachers. Without the foundation of a quality education system—highly motivated, innovative, quality teachers—we are not likely to remain the richest of countries. This comes on the heels of a panel I had the pleasure of moderating at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at NC State University. The Friday Institute hosts a quarterly Friday Forum that brings key thought leaders in to meet with educators, community members, and corporate leaders. This event featured Richard Florida, the award-winning author, economist, and idea champion behind The Rise of the Creative Class and The Flight of the Creative Class. Richard gave a spirited talk about how we’ve come through the industrial economy into a creative economy—where everyone reaching their creative potential is key in economic development. In short, communities that inspire, welcome, and catalyze creativity through things like quality, innovative education will continue to thrive. Those that neglect creativity and education, do so at their own peril. After his talk, we convened a panel with Richard, Dr. Jim Goodnight, CEO and founder of SAS, and co-author with Richard of the article Managing for Creativity in HBR, and June Atkinson, Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of North Carolina. The panel pounced on Richard’s ideas and really challenged education leaders to drive change in how we teach, reach, and engage our students. June in particular was right there with Florida and Goodnight advocating for change, innovation, and focus—focus on the need for and needs of education in the modern economy. She wasn’t defensive at all, as some educators become during these dialogues. She was laser focused on how we drive change. It just strikes me that when award winning columnists for the NY Times and leading economists are jumping into the education debate, and practicing educators sing in harmony, we should take note. Education is in the ether; more so because in the creative/knowledge economy we can no longer suffer a sloppy Darwinian education system. We MUST do better. And that imperative will keep education and creativity, and the leadership necessary to power education and creativity, on the front page.