Opinion

Learning how to learn is one's best security

The following is excerpted from last week's address by Winthrop University President Anthony J. DiGiorgio, opening the institution's 2007-2008 academic year.

In these times, there is no finish line on higher learning for anyone. To state that in another way: If a degree affirms only the mastery of a single discipline as it is understood today, it will not serve our graduates in the world of tomorrow. In addition, higher learning today also must instill in graduates the habits of lifelong inquiry and the habits of lifelong creativity if our degrees are to fulfill the mission of meeting what the progress of the times may require.

Leading intellects continue to remind us of that essential 21st century truth.

Author Tom Friedman is both a New York Times columnist and author of "The World is Flat," the seminal play-by-play analysis of how the world moved from the industrial age to the information age to the digital age, and all the implications of that for our future.

Last year, Friedman noted that a student's tandem quotients of curiosity and passion for learning actually can be more important to individual success than basic intelligence.

Author Daniel Pink, author of "A Whole New Mind," ... advances Friedman by noting that this conceptual age is one in which America and Americans can benefit markedly from a liberal arts approach. Here is how he puts it: "The left brain is useful. But when the world is flat, almost everything on the boring, functional, organized left side of the brain can be done by an overachiever from India or be automated. So it is developing and engaging that creative, innovative, passionate, right side of the brain that is more important."

Friedman and Pink aren't the only futurists to reach such conclusions.

The National Center on Education and the Economy did the same last year in looking at the skills needed by the American workforce. What that group found was presented in the Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce:

"The best employers the world over will be looking for the most competent, most creative and most innovative people on the face of the earth -- and will be willing to pay them top dollar for their services. This will be true not just for the top professionals and managers, but up and down the length and breadth of the work force.

"It is a world in which ... 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 ...as the shifts in the economy become ever faster and more dramatic."

It is a view of the world that prompted Tom Friedman to reiterate the advice he imparts to others' children as well as his own:

"The ability to learn how to learn will be the only security you have."

Important words, for our own families, our students and ourselves.

That is the world for which Winthrop is preparing our students, through our own creative work as stewards of educational creativity...of a perpetual ongoing process in which the goal is to continually press the envelope on how good -- how right for the times -- we can make the Winthrop experience.

There are those -- particularly in the public policy realm -- who would have colleges and universities be simple purveyors of pre-packaged, static educational products.

They view higher learning as if it were a commodity, interchangeable from institution to institution so that credit at a for-profit diploma mill that never changes is viewed the same as credit earned through a highly engaging, dynamic institution that is constantly focused on building its quality.

They want there to be a generic English 101 and Math 101 at every institution, right up the line, with each course as indistinguishable and transferable as McDonald's hamburgers from coast to coast, and just as devoid of any potential for value added.

And that can certainly be done. Just take all the people out of the process, and coursework can become just such a lifeless, stagnant commodity.

But higher education, done right, is not such a commodity, because higher education is about people -- students, faculty and staff... learners all... interacting in ways that inspire and transform each other....

That is why public policy must be about people, for it is people who are the ultimate source of progress for both our families and our nation. ...

As always, that is our tradition, that is the inspiration for our collective work, and it is our privilege to take up that work again in the year to come.

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