Preparing for a New Day
Now, as at previous times of national crisis, our thoughts naturally turn to our young people. They are whom we seek to protect. They also are whom we must prepare to protect themselves. At such moments it is helpful, I believe, to turn to history. I like to ask what the past has taught us from which we can learn. Three dates come to my mind as especially relevant. They are Dec. 8, 1941, Oct. 5, 1957, and Sept. 12, 2002.
Everyone knows what happened on Dec. 7, 1941. The attack on Pearl Harbor made that a date “which will live in infamy.” And we all know what happened on Sept. 11, 2001. On the days that followed — on Dec. 8, 1941, and Sept. 12, 2001, the nation got to work dealing with the crisis of the day before. We started to plan for international military action, we started rescue activities, we started to clean up.
Most people don’t recall Oct. 4, 1957, as a date of national crisis, but many parents and most grandparents will remember that morning if reminded about what happened then. It was especially important for educators. For on Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite to orbit Earth. The world learned about this triumph on Oct. 5. Americans awoke to the news that our scientific community had lost the race into space — and that is just how everyone in the world understood that event.
Following the rise of Sputnik and the shock of our scientists, young men and women in American high schools and colleges had the task of preparing themselves to be stronger in mathematics and science. Suddenly high schools started to teach calculus and Advanced Placement science courses. And suddenly colleges were perceived to be part of the nation’s defense system. American education changed dramatically, and students carried a special new responsibility to learn for the sake of both the nation’s defense and national pride. We in American education need to respond with similar force and effect to Sept. 11. And those who fund American education need to understand the urgency of this priority along with us.
The challenges that students in or about to enter college now face are more than the military challenges faced on Dec. 8, 1941. And they are broader in scope than the educational challenges faced by my generation, who attended high school and college in the late 1950s. Members of our current college generation need to be prepared when and if further military actions are required, since they will be the ones called to serve.
But they also need to be prepared to understand the causes and results of widespread poverty and other social ills.
• They need to be prepared with medical knowledge to serve those who do battle and those who serve at home.
• They need to be prepared to raise and nurture their own families, not just in times of comfort and luxury, but in times of hardship and anxiety.
• They need to be prepared to work together. Solving most of the hard problems of this century will require teamwork. Everyone will need to get involved — whether African American or German American or Asian American or Italian American or Native American or Mexican American. The talents of every member of this generation will be important.
For these tasks, they need the best education that we can help them to achieve. They need knowledge, skills and wisdom. The students of today form the generation that needs to get up, prepare for the altered day, and move themselves and the country forward in our new environment.
— Dr. Mac A. Stewart is vice provost for minority affairs at Ohio State University.
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