At the Fulcrum of Change
Last week Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum came under fire for comments he made about higher education in the United States. “President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.” In the heat of a campaign, his comments unfortunately were entirely of a political nature and seemed to be overly fixated on attacking President Obama, rather than making an actual commentary on policy.
Sadly, Santorum has committed a spectacular fumble that may end up having grave consequences not only for his campaign, but for the future of education reform. Going to college is a touchy subject, as a university education has been engraved in the American mind as being absolutely essential to succeed in our world. Since World War II, a college degree was essentially a ticket to the middle class. To this day, it raises eyebrows when any student voluntarily passes up the chance to pursue higher education.
But with the advent of the 21st century, our world is going through a time of massive growing pains. One only has to look at the frightful acceleration of the technologies we use (Compare what a cell phone can do today with a personal computer just a decade ago). Within the last decade the internet and mass media have bloomed to radically change the way we all live. One must also factor in the explosion of growth from developing countries such as India and China, and all the resources and resource flows that have sprung up as a result.
The generation that is entering the workforce now faces a world that is incredibly different from the world that their parents faced. In times of great change, there is often a lag between change in reality and change in the people’s patterns of thought. As we move into an age with different demands and challenges from the previous, the anachronistic ideal of college education still remains dominant.
While some see President Obama as “a major cheerleader for community colleges and trade schools”, the current administration has only proposed further increases to federal college aid and assistance. While the President might not have explicitly said that everyone should go to college, we can tell by his actions that his thinking is certainly trapped in the “college is essential” paradigm.
The world will not wait for the American attitude towards higher education to change. Since college has been held up as an essential for so long, the old habit will die hard. Santorum has failed to realize that his comment is taking on the conventional wisdom, yet he has callously driven the issue to a partisan level. While I doubt Santorum has consciously done this, his uncouth remarks have given away the moral high ground.
At this moment, we are in the middle of the great storm of change. Fuelled by exponential growth in technology, the world has begun to feel the birth pangs of a new age. But as long as we continue to subsidize the conventional wisdom of yesteryear, we ill-equip our young people for the future and may very well condemn them to be the next lost generation.