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Educating Students in a "Flat World"

From the Superintendent's Standpoint

By Travis Miller

Educating Students in a "Flat World"


I recently had the opportunity to read The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman.  This book discusses a variety of themes related to globalization and the implications of globalization for business, education, and government.  I highly recommend this book to our high school students, parents, teachers, and community members as Friedman provides an interesting perspective on our changing world and unique insights into how we might find success in this ever-changing world.  

As I think about all the changes that we see in our world and the many challenges we face in education locally and nationally, the following themes come to mind:

• We must prepare students for a changing world by instilling lifelong learning skills.
• We must prepare diverse students for a diverse world
• In addition to the "basics" we must also prepare students to think creatively.
• We must engage students in the development of resiliency.

One concept that has recently been highlighted by commentators and scholars is that the world is continuously changing and that the rate of change is accelerating.  In preparing students of today for the world of tomorrow we must work to help them develop abilities to learn throughout their lives.  In addition to "right brain" approaches such as promoting a love of learning, schools must also become more explicit in studying student learning at the individual level and then sharing that information with students to empower them to be leaders of their own learning during their school years and in their lives beyond the schoolhouse doors.  

As a variety of illustrations in Friedman's work detail, it is important that students have the ability to learn new skill sets or to apply current skills in new and innovative ways for security in a world where outsourcing and off-shoring are becoming the norm rather than the exception.  

In addition to preparing students to be lifelong learners, we must prepare an ever more diverse student population for a diverse world.  As demographics continue to change and the cultural landscape of our nation, communities, and schools changes, it is important that schools provide a high quality education to all students who walk through the door.  A commitment to learning for all is necessary both to preserve our national and cultural identities, but also to preserve our economic strength as a nation.  Parents, community members, and schools must work to provide opportunities for the development of the knowledge and skills necessary for engaged and enlightened citizenry, in addition to economic opportunity.  If our communities fail to provide such opportunities for all segments of the population, then the future strength of our nation will be impeded because resources will be used as "band-aids" to fix societal and educational shortcomings.

At the same time, schools must work to prepare students to compete locally and globally.  Students will need understandings of other nations, cultures, and environments in order to effectively navigate the world of international business and finance.  While all students may not need these skills at the present time, failure to provide such educational opportunity to all students today will limit the potential of our students to be fully competitive in the international marketplace of the present and future.  

As educators living in a post-No Child Left Behind world, it is important that we go "beyond the test" and provide students with opportunities to develop creative and imaginative thinking skills which build upon and expand from deep understandings of the "basics" or the core subjects.  Just as the liberal arts education has provided a rich worldview for so many college graduates, K-12 schools must provide strong basic education that is supplemented by learning opportunities in the visual and performing arts, athletics, and multimedia.  By providing a holistic education, which goes beyond those subjects tested under No Child Left Behind, schools can prepare students to use their imaginations to conceive of new, different, and better ways to live, learn, play, and work.  In addition to teaching students strategies to think, it seems that we must also teach them strategies to dream.

Finally, as parents, community members, and educators we must work to increase opportunities to help students develop resiliency.  The world of tomorrow will be filled with a variety of challenges as our nation works to maintain a leading edge economically, politically, and socially.  Our students will need to have the resiliency needed to never give up in the face of adversity, whether that adversity comes in the form of unemployment, political upheaval, or social instability.  If we can help our students to keep pushing forward and reaching higher no matter what the situation, then they will have a chance to achieve both small and large victories for themselves and for humanity.  

In closing, I think that the education of the youth of today provides remarkable challenges and unique opportunities.  Given the consistent thread of hope for a better tomorrow and the will to see that through as exemplified by the discussions in our community, I am confident that a bright future is within reach as long as we have the will to move thoughts to action and the courage to continue improving our school community.  Our students’ futures depend on it.  

As always, if you would like to share success stories about Bayard Public Schools or if you have ideas about how we can work together to make our school even better, please call the school or send me an e-mail.