In an absolutely unpredictable world, the pendulum is absolutely predictable.
Why should we care? Because right now you and I are riding a very big one. The pendulum known as education, teaching, curriculum. Today tens of millions of young people are in classrooms where the pendulum has swung from such traditional right-brain courses as history and humanities to our heralded left-brain courses like math and science.
Starting in the Cold War with the Soviets in the 1950s-60s, math and science became the focus of most curriculum reforms and federally funded school programs. Seen from the perspective of Silicon Valley and corporate America, the results have been impressive. Geeks and nerds are now the new campus heroes. The swell of scientific progress in space, medicine, energy, weaponry and consumer electronics has been spectacular.
But with this growing swing toward math and science, there has been a corollary swing away from the old curricula including history and humanities. We live in a highly competitive and practical age, so those traditional right-brained fields seemed more expendable. The problem — and in the history of American education there always seems to be another problem that demands another reform movement– we may be educating a population of more Steve Jobs and Marc Zuckerbergs at the expense of more Jonathan Franzens and Stephen Spielbergs.
The press is crowded with reports of declining grades, falling graduation rates, and a citizenry that hardly understands its nation’s history, culture and place in the world. To master the computer, the Internet, and the smart-phone without also mastering the where-and-why you’ve come from is an empty victory. If Jay Leno’s Tonight Show is the social barometer of America, listen the next time he does a street interview. Young people staring blankly at questions about the Constitution, Lincoln, the Civil Rights movement, the New Deal, and Watergate. Not only a travesty worth the audience’s laughter, but a tragedy worth a nation’s concern.
We stand proud of our best-and-brightest technological minds today. And we should. But minds honed by scientific brilliance lose luster when we realize how many of them understand only their here-and-now. All too often without any sense of the where-when-and-why their here-and-now has come to pass. Has become part of their life. Has become central to why they do what they do.
The life of a nation is like the necklace of time. Each bead of progress exists and shines in and of itself. However, if understood and admired only by itself, it remains but a bead. Not a necklace! America is more than the sum of its beads. It’s the whole greater than the sum of its parts. And that whole asks that our young people occasionally look up from their wondrous beads to realize how they are part of a centuries-old necklace.
The payoff? Well for one thing, Jay Leno won’t get as many laughs from stupidly staring interviewees
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