ROSE NOLEN: Education is the cornerstone of society

Tuesday, December 28, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 10:20 a.m. CST, Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Back in the days when it was a popular activity, I never made New Year's resolutions. I admit I was too busy living life to stop and reflect on it. I enjoyed every minute of it, and I don't apologize.

Now that I am a wee bit older and we're coming up on the end of the year and I have adopted the idea of writing things down as a way of keeping track, I have decided to list something that I need to do in the coming year.

Although I have believed this for many years, I've never found it a more immediate concern than I do at this time. In fact, I find it of ultimate importance to research, investigate and learn about as many cultures as I can that have thus far escaped me. As I listen to our conversations and discussions I realize that, as Americans, we have become in our attitudes and concerns entirely too insular. In other words, I've noticed that it's all about us, how we feel, what we believe, what we think should be done.

As technology has brought the world closer to our own backyard, the first fact that has been brought home to me is how young our civilization is compared to those of other countries. Our country was only born a little more than 200 years ago. How old is Greece, China or the continent of Africa?

Sure, I am a great student of history, but I've almost exclusively concentrated on American history. But what about world history? Surely if we are to build alliances and forge treaties with other nations, we not only need to learn their histories, but their cultures as well.

It's altogether possible that countries that have been around a thousand years more than ours might be able to tell us something. For example, whether some of us want to face it or not, we're losing the battle in the field of education. I found it disturbing that one-fourth of students fail to pass U.S. Army entrance exams. One would think that these arrogant politicians who think they can beat up everyone in the world who disagrees with them would try to develop an educational system that can compete with other countries. After all, they're going to need these young people to defend their elders' loose tongues.

But nothing seems to bother us about the state of the country. We appear to be more interested in celebrities, reality shows and other forms of entertainment than we are about our failing educational system or the manner in which the two-party system has divided our people.

That great American myth that we are invincible seems to overpower our common sense. Our democracy has survived because dedicated, honorable men and women believed in it and worked at maintaining it. For us to sit back and allow it to unravel because we went to sleep at the wheel is unconscionable. In doing so we not only fail future generations, but also we dishonor those who have sacrificed and died for the cause of our freedom.

We cannot ignore what is happening to our educational system. Our ability to maintain a democracy depends on our having an educated populace. We need leaders with intellect and the ability to reason. People who have no knowledge of where the country has been cannot possibly help determine the direction it needs to take.

Certainly we have a minority of individuals who believe educated people are elitists who have no respect for the uneducated. Those people need to understand that in a country where a free public education system and a free public library system are available to all, remaining uneducated is a personal choice. This country was built on something called "Yankee ingenuity," where people dared to beat the odds in order to succeed. Expecting Americans to applaud lack of effort is unreasonable.

This year, I'm planning to enroll in an online class in anthropology. I'm saying it out loud because I believe if I write it down it becomes a part of my schedule of events. Now, I feel obligated to find the right school and the right class.

Well gosh; making a New Year's resolution wasn't all that bad. Wonder why I didn't do it sooner.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at


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Michael Williams December 28, 2010 | 3:06 p.m.


Many of us, like you, bemoan the education of our youth.

But few are willing to change the 50 y/o policies that have taken us to this place. We simply keep doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.

And the most frequent "same thing" is, "We need more money!"

And I heartily disagree.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire January 2, 2011 | 2:06 p.m.

Larry Brown at MU is said to teach an excellent class that is titled geography with another word before it. It may be called human geography. If I had or wanted to take a class here it might be that one.

And to Mike, I really don't know if Rose is saying that more money is needed. Education is a difficult problem because first you need educators who are educated and then you need educatees (my word) who want to be. This calls for what I remember was termed a "paradigm shift" in "TQL" (total quality leadership) that was a trendy class given in the military allegedly to model leadership on the Japanese business style. It means basically, that the general population as a whole changes their collective view of something in particular. I don't know of any easy way to cause the general population to care more about the history of Paris than the history of Paris Hilton. I'm thinking that all three of us may agree that simply throwing money is a bad answer. I suppose one could buy a used text book and sit in on the class, and supplement that with a few trips to the library or the computer or both. I also like those book sales they have at the library. Even if the prices have gone up, a few bucks each is nothing for a quality book. Gaining a general understanding of history to establish a perspective is probably the most inexpensive and widely disseminated type of education one can access. Understanding current business practice, trade secrets, cutting edge technology, or anything that requires supervised training IS expensive. On a national level, revamping a syllabus or textbook is as effective as anything and could be done without any cost above what is being spent currently. This of course, would require a "paradigm shift" on the part of people elected to serve on school boards and selected as university curators.

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