Educating a Global Society
Gaston Caperton, a former two-term governor of West Virginia, is the eighth president of the College Board, a not-for-profit membership association founded in 1900 that consists of 5,000 of the nation's leading schools, colleges, and universities. Among its best-known programs are the Advanced Placement Program® (AP®) and the SAT®.
Since his appointment in 1999, Caperton has transformed the College Board into a resolutely mission-driven, values-oriented organization that takes bold steps to connect greater numbers of students to college success and opportunity while raising educational standards. In his successful effort to expand equity within programs that foster academic excellence, he has more than doubled the size of the College Board's staff, modernized its management structure, and established collegeboard.com, the nation's predominant comprehensive Web site serving nearly 4 million students a year as they plan their paths to college.
Gaston Caperton: First of all, we’ve been terrible in this country [USA] in believing that all we have to do is to speak English. Now, we do a lot of work with the Chinese and we’re doing more work in India, we created AP Chinese, and we now have brought 200 Chinese teachers to America because we didn’t have teachers in America that could teach Chinese to our American students.
And so, we take about 300 educators every year, every summer to China for a week to let them have a better sense of what that culture is, and what can be happening in there. And one of the things that I think is embarrassing, to me as a person who only speaks one language well, is that when I meet with the Chinese, or the people that work with me meet with the Chinese, we have to speak English, and they’re speaking our language and we’re not speaking their language.
I think that one of the things that colleges and universities have to do is to put much higher requirements of entry into the schools that language is an important part of being a part of an international world. I would say, and the graduation from colleges and universities, that the knowledge of language should be an important part of that. So I think language is a critical thing that we in this country [USA] have not focused on.
Our Math and Science were not doing nearly the job we can. We’re revamping all our AP Science courses because they weren’t as deep as they need to be, or really quite broad and not deep enough. So, we’ve got to get more students to recognize the importance of Math and the Sciences and a commitment to that.
So, I think that those are two things that I really believe for us internationally are critically important.
Another thing I’d like to say is, if you want to know about the Sciences; I was recently the graduation speaker at a major university that is an engineering and scientific school, a lot of it is and, at the graduation, I would say that at least half, or more than half, of the graduates in those graduate schools getting their Masters and PhD were foreign students. Now, the reason that was because they weren’t having the US students apply or they weren’t competitive in those applications. That’s something we’ve got to change.
Question: Is there an overseas model that makes sense for American schools?
Gaston Caperton: I think the place that has done probably the best job, and the most progressive job, is in Singapore where they have really paid attention to Math and Science. It’s a very small but a very progressive country. I have been willing to look around the world for what is the best and the highest level of teaching and learning; I would say Singapore is a place that we’ve looked at, and people who we’ve talked to, to see what their innovation is.
The other thing that, when you’re in Singapore, when you’re in China, when you’re in India, one of the things that you really recognize is the real commitment and the hard work of the students.
We sometimes hear our students complain about the length of taking the SAT, as a part of the application part in colleges and universities. Well, the SAT takes about 3 to 3 and a half hours. In China, in Korea, I know that those exams last about 3 days; 5 hours a day of examinations. And so, the rigor that they expect and the work they expect from their students and the work they get certainly overpowers what we’re doing in the United States.
Recorded on: January 27, 2009
The College Board's Gaston Caperton on America's monolingual handicap.
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Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
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