Editor's Note (The View From Here)

The Pendulum Swings

For as long as I have been involved in education I have listened to the people say there is a need for educational reform. In my opinion it is not about reform, it is about transformation and the perpetual swing of a pendulum. For example:

Sustainability. In 1970 we celebrated the first Earth Day. Schools, colleges and communities demonstrated in favor of environmental reform. An executive order signed by then President Nixon was the start of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an agency whose purpose it was to protect human health and the environment. Twenty years later the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) was founded to promote sustainability in how buildings are designed, constructed and operated, and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system was developed. Students across the country were once again front and center in support of sustainability. Fast forward to today’s news stories, and questions are being raised as to the “real” costs:benefit analysis of going green.

Science and Technology. In 1957 Sputnik was launched by Russia. Shortly thereafter, lawmakers began calling for a greater emphasis on science and math. In 1958 Washington passed the National Defense Education Act and more than $1 billion was infused into this “new” science curriculum. As important as this was at the time, the buzz soon died down. Fast-forward to the 2000s when global rankings, the economy and workforce development took center stage, and there was a renewed emphasis on what we now called S.T.E.M. While jobs are the desired outcome, our ability to fill those jobs is tied to education. Today we are hearing S.T.E.A.M., not S.T.E.M., as the value of the arts is seen in enhancing creativity and innovation. Unfortunately, while we believe that students need the ability to think critically, problem solve and collaborate to succeed, the focus on S.T.E.M./S.T.E.A.M. appears to be driven by outside factors — jobs, and the idea that the U.S. has fallen “behind” — factors that are likely to change and once again diminish the importance of S.T.E.M. education.

A Perfect World. Things will continue to change and the pendulum will continue to swing. In my version of a perfect world, transformation would include social norms that focused on civility, personal responsibility, productivity and a return to the work ethic that built this great country. When coupled with a good education, no matter the current focus, we would have the potential to be unstoppable!

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of College Planning & Management.

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