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A Publication of WTVP

The world of American education is frozen in time. A recent Time magazine article describes a scenario where Rip Van Winkle wakes up and finds the world around him remarkably changed. He walks around the countryside and sees people talking to small devices attached to their ears, peering into small screens that provide a variety of visions and being healed by unusual pieces of equipment. Then he enters a school room. He is relieved. Finally he finds something that is basically the same as it was 100 years ago—the American classroom—except maybe the chalkboard is green or has one of the newfangled white boards.

This scenario has not only been noted by Time. In a recent presentation attended by ICC administrators, Steelcase showed three pictures of a classroom and challenged audiences to identify the year each was taken. Remarkably, all the photos looked pretty much alike. Education, according to some sources, has remained unchanged. At least that’s what Time says will be reported by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, a bipartisan committee comprised of government, business and educational leaders.

The Time report on the Commission’s work is damning. American education lags far behind its European counterparts. The report criticizes American education for a parochial view of the world, where only an American perspective is taught.

Other problems noted in the Time report:

• Education eschews the reality of the business world and focuses not on skills that will make workers productive, but on academic subjects that have been taught over and over again since the 1800s without linkages to the global and information economy.
• Education fails to teach teamwork and collaboration and relies—still—on individual efforts.
• Education continues to use the “sage on the stage” approach to learning, employing lectures and tests to determine whether students are learning. Interactive and team activities are the exception, rather than the rule.
• Education neglects to teach deportment. Students leave schools, both secondary and college, without a clue how to behave in the business world.
• Education fails to teach critical-thinking skills such as problemsolving under stress.
• In the information economy, education has neglected to teach students how to discern valid information from fluff. Students can’t distinguish the difference in credibility between Wikipedia and the New England Journal of Medicine.
• Education has failed to integrate interdisciplinary skills. Students don’t see the connections with writing well, mathematics, geography and economics in viewing and analyzing their world.
• Education has failed to teach good communication skills, including succinct and careful writing, mental organization and foreign languages.
• Education remains aloof from the realities of the business world in which we live and, in fact, finds the business world repugnant and trivializing to education.

These are harsh criticisms of our educational system. Time also notes that places like Singapore and Germany have adapted learning to the way the world operates and that many countries have heeded the call to action. The Time article reports that in this new economy, it will be important for people to become lifelong learners who need to know how to effectively participate in the (gulp!) business world!

The community college has a remarkable opportunity to provide an education that overcomes many of the criticisms leveled in the Time article. Relatively new to the higher education world, not all community colleges have become steeped in the academic traditions which Time reports as “liabilities in a rapidly changing world.” But like their older counterparts, many faculty and administrators of community colleges find the “outside” world a lesser world than the ivory towers of academe. This is dangerous thinking, according to the Time article. The colleges and universities that will survive in this millennium are those who have the courage to embrace this brave new world. And that means new models of learning and collaboration, enriched curriculum that teaches new-world skills, a keen interest and appreciation for how business is conducted in the “real world” and a willingness to accept business models as relevant to student learning. After all, isn’t preparing students to participate as global citizens what higher education is all about? IBI

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