Rigor, Competence, and Freedom
In the article from the New York Times on the 13th of December 2006, written by Thomas Friedman named, “Imagination will be necessary to succeed,” he states, “Rigor and competence, without freedom, will take China only so far.”
This statement was in response to the implication that Great Britain ruled the 19th century, America dominated the 20th century, and that China will dominate the 21st.
Friedman contends that freedom is a necessary component to a society’s ability to produce innovative products and services that offer premium wages for the workers who deliver such a product or a service.
China currently possesses an incredible manufacturing base and has improved its educational system so that there are increasing numbers of high school graduates. However; their lack of freedom, as exhibited by their national censorship of Google, and the existence of a Communist government, will be major roadblocks to their ability to turn out innovative thinkers.
On the other hand, Friedman notes, “Freedom, without rigor and competence, will take us only so far.” There is no question that America’s educational system has some major revamping to do if America is to remain the world’s standard in innovative thinking.
Considering how American students lag the students of other developed nations in the categories of reading, writing, math, and science; it is difficult to conceive that this standard is going to be upheld.
This notion has been under investigation for some time as a bipartisan commission consisting of a 27-member panel that includes former governors, senators, Cabinet secretaries, business and labor leaders, civil rights leaders, and education and job-training experts realized in an influential report by the National Center in Education and the Economy named, Tough Choices or Tough Times.
The report makes specific recommendations on how American education will have to change given that nations such as China and India are now producing large numbers of educated people willing to work for relatively low salaries.
“Over the past 30 years one country after another has surpassed us in the proportion of their entering workforce with the equivalent of a high school diploma, and many more are on the verge of doing so. Thirty years ago, the United States could lay claim to having 30% of the world’s population of college students. Today that proportion has fallen to 14% and is continuing to fall.” (National Center in Education and the Economy, 2006)
“What Americans still don’t realize is that our economic preeminence rests squarely on our education preeminence,” said Marc S. Tucker, NCEE’s president, “and we aren’t preeminent any more.”
It’s going to be the countries that produce the important new products and services that will maintain the technological lead, but technology is not the only factor to maintaining leadership.
“It depends on a deep vein of creativity that is constantly renewing itself, and on a myriad of people who can imagine how people can use things that have never been available before.”
The NCEE’s report summarizes where Americans need to strengthen themselves if they expect to succeed in the future globalized job market.
“Strong skills in English, mathematics, technology, and science, as well as literature, history, and the arts, will be essential for many; beyond this, candidates will have to be comfortable with ideas and abstractions, good at both analysis and synthesis, creative and innovative, self-disciplined and well organized, able to learn very quickly and work well as a member of a team and have the flexibility to adapt quickly to frequent changes in the labor market as the shifts in the economy become ever faster and more dramatic.”
If the problem with China is the lack of freedom, and the problem with America is the lack of rigor and competence, where does the happy medium lie? Obviously it lies in an increase in freedom for the Chinese, and an increase in rigor and competence with the Americans.
Without major overhauls of our educational systems we can expect a major widening in the gap of the haves and the have-nots in American society as we see routine work become more digitized, off-shored, or automated.
Without major advances in the causes of freedom of expression and religion in China, we most likely will see only an increase in the manufacturing base of the country’s economy, rather than an increase in innovative products or services.
The less educated of America will descend to true poverty and obscurity, while the less fortunate of China will descend into further slavery. Only countries with highly skilled workforces will be able to successfully compete in the emerging world marketplace, and it will be that country or workforce that combines the principals of freedom, rigor, and competency the most effectively.