John M. EgerHuffington Post

Lionel Van Deerlin Professor of Communications and Public Policy, San Diego State University

Posted: Posted: 05/23/11

The challenge America faces in the wake of global competition is daunting.

We have lost our prowess in manufacturing, and in the provision of services like banking, accounting and insurance because computers can be found almost everywhere in the world, and any country can provide such services at a fraction of the cost, and ship it via telecommunications.

Globalization 3.0, first coined by The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, is here. Yes, as Friedman says, The World is Flat. Outsourcing and offshoring have entered our lexicon of new words. We are currently suffering what economists are euphemistically calling a “jobless recovery,” and our communities and schools are facing challenges not well understood by politicians, policy makers or parents.

We don’t know exactly how many jobs are lost from offshoring. But this shift of high tech service jobs will be a permanent feature of economic life in the 21st century.

While CEOs, economists and politicians are telling us that these are short-term adjustments, it is clear that the pervasive worldwide spread of the Internet, digitization and the availability of white collar skills abroad — where the labor cost alone may justify the move — mean huge cost savings for those global corporations.

In 1997, San Diego State University helped the California Department of Transportation develop the concept of “smart communities”: communities using new information infrastructures, wired and wireless information pathways connecting every home, office, school and hospital, through the Worldwide Web, to millions of other individuals and institutions around the world.

These infrastructures are important.

But you cannot have smart, let alone creative, communities without smart and creative people, and little has been said about what makes us smart. Much too little about what makes us creative. The game is changing. As Business Week Magazine has argued: “It isn’t just about math and science anymore (although those are surely important disciplines). It’s about creativity, imagination, and, above all, innovation.”
The hearse is at the back door of America, as we know. Either we make the changes we must or the greatest experiment we know — America — fails.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, an academic journal covering post-secondary education in the United States, recently raised the question of whether university majors are “silos” inhibiting learning. Silos are one of the reasons that administrators and faculty have such a difficult time making changes that count.

We have recognized changes in the knowledge base, and often established new courses, even new majors to meet the challenges. We seldom eliminate any or merge them. The university majors that exist today are not necessarily job-related. More importantly, a degree of any kind is no guarantee of a job. What is important is that young people “learn how to learn” (acquire genuine thinking skills) in high school and particularly in college, and find out what they can be passionate about.

Although the job market is in tremendous flux, with the advent of globalization, we continue to add courses and new degrees, but never take any away. We have even added colleges with more deans and overhead to handle the explosion of all this growth.

A few years ago, the Labor Department predicted that people will “have 10 to 14 jobs by age 38.” At the time, former Education Secretary Richard Riley said that “the top 10 jobs that will be in demand (don’t yet exist) and they will be using technologies that haven’t been invented. In order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”

With the proliferation of the Internet, and the computerization of news archives and libraries available on the Worldwide Web, literally thousands of references are available at the click of a mouse. The challenge today is not acquiring information; it is determining which information is relevant. What do our graduates need to know and why, in this new, global, technology-driven world?

In an age where we are discovering that everything is connected, what we really need to do is create the interdisciplinary curriculum that emphasizes the new economy, the role of technology and the spirit of enterprise — specifically, creativity and innovation.

Given the painful cuts in education our systems face, only radical solutions will solve the difficult challenges before us. Finally, a recent report by The President’s Committee on Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) strongly recommends “an expansion of arts integration. The PCAH encourages further development of the field of arts integration through strengthening teacher preparation and professional development, targeting available arts funding, and setting up mechanisms for sharing ideas about arts integration through communities of practice. In this recommendation we identify roles for regional and state arts and education agencies as well as private funders.”

This is an important first step in giving kids the new thinking skills for a whole new age of creativity and innovation, and lays the foundation for developing a new curriculum, too.