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New College of USF Commencement May 22, 1987 Address by Frank Newman, President, Education Commission of the States Thank you Bob, very much. It's an honor for me to be back on the campus of New College. I had the privilege of serving on the board here for many years. It's a privilege, particularly, to share with you this special moment of your graduation and to witness something else a little unusual. That is, a corporate executive, inciting people to maverickism. It's a new experience for me. But I am sure it will serve you well. In a way it's an awkward time for you to graduate. Since, because of the nature of your education here, each of you is looking for an interesting career that will bring you not only visibility but great respect in the community. I say it is an awkward time because many of the most exciting and visible career paths, say a Wall Street wheeler dealer, or a TV minister, or athletic director at Southern Methodist, or the White House staff, or even running for president just don't seem to be what they used to be. As graduating seniors of impeccable character, and the provost assures me that you are, you may feel that it is essential that you find other less attractive lines of work. The good news is that there are lots of interesting jobs. Jobs that most of us don't even know exist. The bad news is that you are going to have to reach out and take the responsibility to prove yourself, to find interesting opportunities, to step forward or those jobs won't be there.
,...an Address, New College Commencement, Mny 22, 1987 page 2 At 22 most of us have a fantasy that we sort of half believe, that the phone will ring just as we get home from the graduation ceremony, and it will be the chairman of the board of some prestigious organization, maybe Exxon or Yale. And the chairman of the board will say, "Listen Smathers, we're in trouble here at the organization. I wonder, we really need you. Is there a way you could free yourself up and come to take over?'' By 28 we all realize that that is not the likely course of events. That's when the rock of reality penetrates finally the hull of life. The critical issue is do we have within us the intellectual skills, the attitudes, that are necessary to fashion an exciting and a useful life. As proof that anyone can end up in an exciting, fascinating, rewarding role, I would like to report to you that I have such a job. Imagine spending all one's time trying to determine the most critical areas and issues in American education. Talking with all the experts. Visiting the most interesting schools and colleges. Advising governors and legislators what to do and giving the commencement address at New College. It is, as you can see, heady stuff. In preparation for this event, I went back over our priorities at the commission and asked myself, what are the urgent issues abroad in American education today? I wanted to ask myself, which of the things we are working on are the most important and the most relevant to your further education? And you are all sophisticated enough, or at least so the provost assures me, to recognize that there is no such thing as completing your education. The nature of the current world is such that it must be, obviously, a continuing effort. In fact, it was in anticipation of this turn of events, that graduate education was invented in the United States.
ftan Address, New College Commencement, May 22, 1987 page 3 As one thinks about the great issues sweeping across education, and the urgency of further development of yourself, and incidentally it is not simply that the world is changing such that one needs to know more, which is certainly true, but because there are entirely different skills which have to be added to those that you have already mastered. I selected from the imposing array of issues now facing us two that seemed to me particularly relevant. The first of these is the relationship between economic development in the United States and those new skills that are required of graduates today in order that the United States can remain competitive in an increasingly demanding world. Second of these is the growth in the complexity of our society with resulting need for greater civic consciousness. Each of these, I would argue, has powerful implications for the nature of your education. Now there are others of equal urgency that one might have chosen. But they didn't seem to have to me the relevance to today's ceremonies. For example, there is a growing number of young people in our schooling system at risk of failing to make a successful transition to adulthood. Research shows that more are dropping out all the time. More actually disconnecting from society. A growing amount of research has shown, that this is closely linked to the nature of the family. I assume, for most of you, it is too late to do much about the nature of your family. It's probably pretty well set. You don't have too much choice anymore. You'd be better off if you could join an Asian-American family with both parents having Ph.D.s and both being rich. Being late for that, I do have one suggestion that you may want to consider. It's a wild idea, but if you're up to it, you might want to try thanking your parents. Not only do they
,an Address, New College Commencement, May 22, 1987 4 deserve it, for obviously you wouldn't be here if they hadn't done something right. But since it is so unusual a thing to happen, it will keep them off balance and give you the edge. At any rate, let me return to the question of economic development. It is the most powerful issue affecting education in the United States today. In every single state there has been at least one and often two or three task forces, blue ribbon commissions, etc. asking, how can we improve the quality of education in order that this state can make its way into the future? In the old system, the United States became the dominant power in the world by its skill as mastering very large hierarchical systems. Mass production. Huge automobile plants. Steel plants. Those have been displaced by other countries who have learned to do it better than we could. What we have done instead is, we have become increasingly a country in which rapid job growth is going on. Job growth far in excess of any other country in the world. Two and a half times the rate of job growth in Japan. But it is all coming outside the Fortune 500. It is coming in the small and medium size concerns. It is coming in creative activities, entrepreneurial skills, new ideas, not just new technologies but new ideas of old skills. America is living today on the cutting edge of new ideas. We have found, as have the Japanese and others, we have to find new ways to make our national living. The issue has become, not can we out produce but can we out think the rest of the world. Can we change to meet these new conditions. It is not easy. All societies tend to look backward rather than forward to try and figure out what's coming. The Romans, after all, were not sitting around asking
Address, New College Commencement, May 22, 1987 5 themse lves how they might adapt to feudalism. They were having a good time looking back. But what will be required of us? A lot of the current discussion in education circles is on the demand for much higher rigor. That is to say, we must know a great deal more about the subjects we currently study. All subjects, but particularly math and science. There has been a great American belief in the academic world, that we can get by as long as we sort of muddle through, we don't really need to know all that much. I call it the lucky Eddie approach. Surely you know the story of the 20th reunion at another institution, not this institution, in which everybody is back. And, of course coming back, they all want to make a good impression on each other so each has gone out and rented a Mercedes or a Cadillac. They show up and they lie to each other a good bit about how well they've done until finally someone says, "Look, let's face it. We've all done well. We're happy. We're making money. But none has really made it big except Eddie. Eddie has made fortune. How did he do it? Gee, you tutored him through economics. You tutored him through physics. You took him through chemistry. And yet Eddie is the one that's made all the money. How did it happen? So they all debate this a while. And pretty soon, up drives Eddie in his limousine. The chauffeur hops out and runs around and opens the door. In he comes, most affable soul. After a few rounds of discussion someone finally says Eddie, tell us, how did you do it? We tutored you through the place. You didn't know a damn thing about math and here you are you've made all the money in the world. He said, actually, it wasn't that hard. He said, I found this product that I can make for $60, sell it for $100 and you'd be amazed how that 4% profit mounts up.
-Newman Address, New College Commencement, May 22, 1987 page 6 Well, this lA tl hnrcler world. lL'A c'l hnrdcr world In which very facet of life is more complex, more technical. You are going to complete not just with the graduates at Rollins and Berkeley, but of Korean universities, Taiwanese, Japanese, German. Recent studies of 15 different countries showed, that the U.S. in its math skills ranked 14th. The good news is we were just ahead of Thailand. The bad news is we slipped behind Hungary. This is no longer the lucky Eddie era. But there are some areas where we have advantages. College students in this country have much greater skills at creativity. That is essential. Much greater skills at risk taking, self confidence. But since these are our future, it is not enough that we have some advantage. The question is not whether we have an advantage, the question is whether our skills are equal to the future. This is true, not for just Americans. A short while ago I was in Japan for a conference marking the 40th anniversary of the Fulbright group. And I made this point. The Japanese are deep in concern over the fact that their education system simply does not prepare people for self confidence, creativity, or risk taking. And I had made a considerable point about the need for self confidence. At the press conference closing it a Japanese reporter asked me a question in Japanese and it came through the interpreter that I had from the American Embassy. He said, why do you keep returning to the question of self confidence? And I explained that in a world of high rates of change self confidence was essential. I said, you're a reporter for a national newspaper, you have a job for life. Suppose that you discovered that all newspapers in Japan were going to disappear within two years, has your education prepared you to deal with that. There was a lot of buzz among
Address, New College Commencement, May 22, l9R7 page 7 the reporters when the interpreter explained what I said. Finally, he said something, and the interpreter turned to me and said, he says, that in Japan it is customary for the reporters to ask the questions. So I said, this is a cross-cultural conference, would you explain that in the United States it is O .K. for anybody to ask a question. What would be his answer if this were in the United States. Again a big buzz. Pretty soon a television reporter who had been standing over by his cameraman came over and got into the discussion and they were all buzzing back and forth. He turned to me and in English he said. We believe you have asked him the central question of our time. So I said, in English, can you tell me what the central answer of our time is? So then there was another buzz. And finally the original reporter answered, and there was a hush among the reporters and the interpreter said, he says, That if all newspapers were to disappear he would have no idea what to do with himself. That his education has in no way prepared him for that. So the question for today is, has your education prepared you. How does one continue to learn and develop these capacities. The answer is practice. You cannot learn creativity by sitting through a class about creativity no more than you can learn about risk taking by sitting through risk taking 101 or self confidence by taking the advanced seminar. You're fortunate. You've been to New College. New College does more, by far, than most American institutions. Now I don't want to add to the sense of humility that is rampant here on campus tonight, but a great deal of work across the country, including some that we've done ourselves, shows that 85% of the time students sit passively in class, are lectured at, and then read back their notes. You've not had that experience. But do not, do not, allow yourself to be ruled. It is very hard at the age of
Address, New College Commencement, May 22, 1987 page 8 to begin to be creative, to take your first risk or to try a new idea. Let me turn to the second point, the growing complexity of our society, resulting in the need for far greater skills in the art of being what is so-called a citizen of a free state. Every issue we deal with today, everything you see in the newspapers, everything you see on television has become so complex. Pollution has moved from simply smog in the Los Angeles basin to acid rain in North America. Who is responsible for acid rain? How do we deal with acid rain? From nuclear power to the whole complicated question of Chernobyl, terrorism, drugs, aids, nothing is simple. An issue like invitro fertilization is not simply technologically complex. It is politically complex, socially complex. Baby M ended up in the courts because we simply didn't know how to deal with that as an issue. result of this is the growth of special interest politics. The new slogan of American is Over my lawsuit you will. The symbol of our political gridlock is a barge loaded with garbage floating o f f the east coast. The outgrowth is that college students have shown, over the years, a growing degree of cynicism. How can I do anything about this? I t is made worse by the electronic media. Our pattern is excessively simple diagnosis of the world's ills, coupled with the conviction that there are identifiable villains in back of each, and that if we could only identify who it is we're on the road to success. Not in solving the problem, but success in pointing a finger. I ran into a friend of m ine in the airport in Chicago. The new president, just going into office, at Notre Dame. I said where are you
Address, New Co I l cg<' Commencemcn t, M;1y V, 1 9R7 rnr.c C) He said he'd just come from New York. He had been on the Today Sho w I said what was it about? He said, well, they were talking about the declining number of minority students in higher education and the urgency of that issue. And I said boy, that is a central issue. And he said, because it was a central issue, Brian Gumbold had devoted two minutes to it. It's tough when you have two minutes to discuss an issue like that particularly if you knew Brian Gumbold's first question. What is the antidote to this? The antidote is to teach ourselves to be effective citizens. Effective citizens in a complex world. How? Same answer. Practice. As a matter of fact, the commission formed an organization called Campus Compact. A compact of 250 institutions, who agreed to get students into community service on the grounds that learning to practice community service is learning to be a citizen. When one is actually engaged, one finds that one can do something. One can learn to fight for what is right and one can learn to compromise when that is right and of course both are essential. Above all, one must accept the idea of personal involvement. There are then some ground rules and let me just sum them up for what I would argue you must learn, I must learn, we must all learn. You must learn more about every subject and learn it well. You must become comfortable with science and technology. You must learn to be creative. You must take prudent risks. You must develop your self confidence and your ability to face change. You must develop the capacity to contribute to the solution of problems, not just the capacity to serve yourself. All of these must be thought about and practiced, less they erode. Well you might as, is it all worth it or is it just a waste of time? Is the U.S., as some people have proposed, a good many have proposed
.N e w College Commencement, May 1987 Jlddress, page 10 in its twilight. Can we in 1987 have a vision of a role for the 18cel1 a n i t e d States comparable to the grandeur of the vision that might have been held in this country in 1887 or 1787? Two years ago some colleagues of mine at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching published a report "Higher Education: the American Resurgence." In that report we asked ourselves that qttestion. And we said, there is one model of not doing it, and that's Britain where they have accepted the idea of a genteel slide backward into second class status. I think Americans do not want that. Another model is Japan, where people have accepted the idea that they'll compete alright for the world's leadership but only in a narrow economic sense. I think Americans reject that as well. We know that that's an inadequate role. Well, what can we do? Can we overcome the apathy? Particularly, since we are so affluent. As John Gardner has said, the danger for America is whether we can stay awake on a full stomach. The answer is, only by involvement. Because it is through involvement that we learn urgency of the problems. Can we overcome the cynicism? Only by involvement. Because it is through our own efforts that we learn that we and others can succeed. I am hopeful that we can. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, America has about it a willingness of the heart. Recently, I was in Australia for a meeting of American policy makers: some governors, legislators and so on, and a few sage philosophers and met with all the Australian ministers of education. It was a fascinating meeting. One night in those late night discussions, which are the heart of such meetings, we were all sitting in the bar and talking about our respective countries. We were concerned about what the Australians might think of us since we were right in the middle of the
5 New College Commencement, May 22, 1987 Addres pnge 11 ing revelations about Iran and the Contras, etc. grow They were clearly deeply concerned about the Iran issue. To our surprise, because they did not wish American leadership damaged. They had figured out something. And their argument to us went something like this. America makes a great many mistakes. Some of them are lulus. In part it is because you are always willing to try. Their wish was that the Australians were willing to try. One of them said you Americans seem to believe that you can improve education. You go around and talk about it all day. Your talk during this conference is full of what we've got to do. We Australians are more inclined to say, well, what is will be. Would that we could be like you. Looking around the world, they had concluded that America, for all its failings, was the hope of the world. It was a sobering moment for us. I do not believe that we are destined for a slow decline as a nation into individual self-serving apathy. Rather, I think we seem to be heading in our own confused way toward the battle. Our armor is awry. Our lance is somewhat askew. But we are willing to give it a go. In no small part, my confidence in the outcome in the future of the country, stems from my confidence in you and your colleagues graduating around the country this month. I congratulate you and I wish you the very best.