John A. Duff: The state of learning
Published: Sunday, November 18, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 11:03 p.m.
Few can disagree as to the importance of education and its role in producing a viable workforce, a brain trust, an educated population and a strong economy. All is critical to fostering and maintaining a healthy society within which its members have the capacity, freedom and motivation to seek employment opportunity, to be happy and to live safely.
The disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or what is commonly referred to as STEM, are undoubtedly essential. But most important of all is a strong kindergarten-through-adult education structure to produce the scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians, as well as all of the other professionals critical to a modern society.
An education should empower our citizens to be aware, to understand, to appreciate, to seek life-long learning, to tolerate and to embrace the idea that no matter what path we choose to follow in life, it is to seek the greater good.
As to the workforce and what employers are looking for in their hiring, it is not surprising to find in the results of employer surveys that the overwhelming response favors intellectual and practical skills — such as written and oral communication, critical thinking and analytical reasoning, complex problem solving, teamwork skills in diverse groups, as well as creativity and innovation.
Under the category of knowledge is included science and technology, global issues, cultural diversity and civic knowledge, participation and engagement. Employers also emphasize the importance of ethical decision-making and applying knowledge in real-world settings.
So, how and where does one learn all of this?
The road of the strong workforce does not begin in college, nor does it begin in high school. The path begins at an early age evolving out of a natural curiosity and series of experiences that draw the child toward certain inclinations.
Having begun the path, the child continues to seek out those experiences that feed his curiosity, interest and capacity. And only through a strong education, starting in kindergarten and continuing through college, does the child acquire the skills, foster the creative thinking, spark the fire and mold the self-discipline into the professional he/she is to become.
It is at a very early level that the future workforce begins and develops, and must be nurtured by a strong educational foundation that promotes intellectual curiosity, literacy, divergent thinking and creative invention.
Education is not a series of steps or compartments, nor is it defined by a diploma hanging on the wall. Education is, as poet William Butler Yeats put it, not a filling of a pail, but rather the “lighting of a fire.”
It is to implant a will and facility for life-long learning; it should produce not learned but “learning” people. The truly human society is where grandparents, parents and children are students together, to quote American social writer Eric Hoffer.
There can be no greater legacy left by today's political leaders than a strong commitment to preparing Florida's future workforce through a generous investment into a state-funded education system — one that provides strong salaries to attract, hire, retain and support inspiring teachers and faculty, thus enabling our citizenry the opportunity to develop their passions through quality educational experiences that begin in pre-kindergarten and continue on through adulthood.
By doing so, Florida will become a state of “learning” citizens; a statewide community that will nurture great scientists, writers, artists, philosophers, teachers and businessmen, all with the entrepreneurial, creative and moral/ethical mindset that insures a stable workforce that is educated with the skills to successfully compete for quality jobs, continues to learn, and is content in their personal and professional lives.
Most important, Florida will become an even better place to raise families, to attract new businesses and to nurture economic prosperity — legacy benefitting all Floridians.
John A. Duff is director of the School of Music at the University of Florida.
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.