Rebuilding Education without Complacency

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 20, 2005

It seems to take a tragedy for many of us Americans to realize that for the most part the large majority of us are rather well off.

Events like the attack of the Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and massive natural disasters like hurricane Katrina give us another perspective of the scope of our diverse and full-spectrum social structure from our economic system to our educational system.

Recently in an interview with Chris Gray of the Knight Ridder Newspapers Orleans Parish (LA) School Board member Jimmy Fahrenholtz expressed lamentation and hope over the devastation wreaked on the Gulf Coast in regard to the school system over which he presides in his official capacity.

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Fahrenholtz said, “A lot of (the schools) we never should have had open.

I wanted to tear this system apart two years ago.

God answered my prayers.”

When I read the article published in the September 15 edition of the Birmingham News, of course, I silently reflected on what has become my private interrogatory mantra – Why do we profess to have such high regard for education, but do so very little to properly fund it?

Yes, yes, I know I propounded such a reflection in this space a couple of weeks ago, but seeing what has happened to the Nation’s Gulf Coast before, during, and after hurricane Katrina, then reading Fahrenholtz’s assessment, yet another interrogative emerged from my sub-consciousness – Why does it take an act of God to accentuate our real needs, our apparent optimism, and our well-disguised vulnerabilities? My rather pedantic and even pedestrian response – our system seems to promote a kind of complacency, and nowhere is that more evident than in our attitudes towards our educational system.

This is something to remember as we witness just how the Gulf Coast, and New Orleans in particular, rebuilds its school systems in the aftermath of Katrina.

So, are we really complacent about our educational systems across the Nation?

While we here in Demopolis make Herculean efforts in supporting our educational system, the sad fact is that nationwide we spend more on entertainment per capita than we do on education, an obvious indication of our complacency.

Then, these acts of God which have no regard for our complacency, but rather seem to exploit our vulnerabilities, visit us with a vengeance – and we are forced to face the weakness of that complacency.

And until we are willing to spend as much to educate our children as we do to take the family to a Division I or professional football game we will compound the vulnerabilities in our educational system.

So, now as the Gulf Coast, focused intently on New Orleans owing to media attention, begins to fashion a design for rebuilding from the ground up, perhaps they can construct an educational infrastructure which does not fall victim to complacency.

It begins, from my perspective, with a re-direction of our priorities – a sincere dedication and commitment to improving the plight of our children in their educational efforts regardless of their socio-economic genesis.

This means staying ahead of the learning curve as it applies to learning theory, to educational methods, and to modes of delivery.

This last point – modes of delivery – means being constantly receptive to emerging technologies which can facilitate learning.

In short, we as a public must allow our educators all possible latitude tin anticipating the needs of our children.

This is an absolute necessity because knowledge is constantly expanding, and at an exponential rate in today’s technological environment.

It is not static; rather, it is dynamic.

Hence, those systems which are charged with apprehending that knowledge and promulgating it to our children must be allowed to be as dynamic as any new discovery, as any new formula, or as any new structure.

Taking such an approach means that we as an entire society must remain open to the changes precipitated by our exposure to knowledge – old facts and new discoveries alike.

We must anticipate the possibilities attendant with discovery and incorporate them in building ever newer approaches to the wonderment and expansion of knowledge through education.

The nemesis of complacency will emerge only if we allow it to do so.

As we enjoy the fruits of our free-market capitalistic economic system, it may be easy to forget the less successful, the less fortunate, the less affluent among us.

And it seems to be a rubric in the American psyche that we simply cannot fathom the fact that some of us are not highly successful, are not blessed with good fortune, and are nowhere near affluence.

Our conclusion, unfortunately, seems to be that it is somehow their fault for not being successful, or fortunate, or affluent.

From this we extrapolate that education must be doing “just fine” since “I got mine” and “It’s your own fault if you did not get yours!”

Add to this form of complacency our unwillingness to fund education to the extent that it needs to be funded and we have a formula for a continuous downward cycle toward something less than mediocre.

In the final analysis, nevertheless, as Jimmy Fahrenholtz and his Board begin to rebuild after Katrina, it will be crucial that they take the necessary steps to ensure that the new system installs effective measures which will anticipate change, will encourage wonderment, and will eschew complacency.

Then, perhaps, when the next act of God or natural disaster visits us, we can rebound as a result of the direct applications of our system which celebrates the dynamic nature of knowledge and of apprehending and promulgating it through strong, diligent educational institutions.

There simply is no room for complacency.

Dr. Arthur G. Ogden is the Demopolis Campus Director of Alabama Southern Community College.

All his degrees are in philosophy.

He can be reached at