I am convinced, to return to my central theme, I am convinced the time has come to try to break up the age ghettos of this culture. I don’t think we will abolish the institutions that now have become isolated. I think we need to think about building inter-generational institutions, bringing the old and young together in day-care centers and even with grand-teachers in the school, and in the new core curriculum, with a strand called “time and space” we not only would have children look at themselves and orient themselves geographically, they should orient themselves in time as well; discovering their own roots, completing perhaps a moral history and beyond their own extended families, becoming well informed about the culture that surrounds them and learning about other cultures too. To put as simply as I can, students should study Western civilization to understand our past, they should study non-western culture to understand our future. But in a larger sense, I’m suggesting that a truly educated person is one who sees connections; one who can place herself or himself in time and space.
This brings me then to human commonality number 5 (in case you’re keeping score). In addition to the life cycle and the use of symbols and the Arts and our shared sense of time and space, I’m convinced that all people on the planet also hold membership in groups and institutions that consequentially shape their lives, and to be truly educated meaning learning about the social web of our existence. We’re born in institutions, we live in institutions and we’re buried by institutions. It means knowing something about family life; about governments and how they function; about the informal structures that surround us, and above all it means discovering how group life varies from one culture to another. We have a son, who lives in a Myon village in the jungles of Belize with his Myon wife and four children, the brightest and the most handsome grandchildren on the planet Earth, and I have pictures, as you might suspect, to prove it. And when we visit Craig each year I am impressed and re-impressed that Myons and Americans carry on their work in very basic ways. I have been fascinated to cross-cultural study the institutions just as an observer. The jungles of Manhattan and the jungles of Belize are separated by a thousand miles and a thousand years, and yet the Myons, just like us, have their family units, they have elected leaders, they have village councils, they have law enforcement officers and jails and schools and places where they worship. At one level its all very different, but at another level its very much the same. I’m suggesting that we all hold membership in groups and institutions which could be a 5th strand in the new curriculum, and I believe all students should not only be introduced to the web of institutions in their own lives, but also engage in a cross-cultural study which might, for example, compare Santa Cruz, California, with Santa Cruz, Belize.
This brings me to commonality number 6. The simple truth is, that with all of our differences, all people on the planet spend their time producing and consuming. The sixth integrated theme in the curriculum I imagine, and through such an effort students would understand the nature of work and perhaps begin to be prepared for work itself. The sad truth is that today’s young people grow up in a culture preoccupied with consuming, with little understanding of what it means to actually produce.
I give you as exhibit A, “Toys R Us,” which for an older man is a bewildering and dazzling and enormously frustrating experience, with boxes of junk and plastic and dazzling things piled from floor to ceiling, as if they’d been poured out of some cornucopia of abundance. We know all about production, but where does it all come from? Today’s students even see their parents bringing paper home at night and carrying more paper off in the morning, which seems incidentally to incestuously procreate overnight. But the question children surely must be asking is “What is it that grownups actually do, beside go to airports and the like?”
When I was State Chancellor of the State University of New York, I took our youngest son, who was then 8, with me to our cabin in the Birches for a weekend. My goal was to build a dock, and all day instead of playing, Steven sat at the water’s edge watching me do things he’d never seen me do before, and hearing me say things he’d never heard me say before! That evening as we drove home, Steven remained quite pensive and finally after several miles he said “Daddy, I wish you’d grown up to be a carpenter instead of you-know-what.” He’d no idea of what you-know-what involved, but somehow he was enormously intrigued, and in some ways reassured, to see his father even crudely engaged in production, that is, demonstrating that one can truly, in a craftsmanship sense, try to make something work. I am convinced that a new integrated curriculum for the future might include a strand called “producing and consuming”, with each student studying simple economics and examining how money systems differ from one culture to another. Learning how work differs from one society to the next and completing a work project of their own to gain a respect for life of the craftsmanship itself.
Several years ago, when Kay and I were in China, we were intrigued that in many of the elementary schools they had a little “factory” just down the hall, where children would go in the afternoon and make a product that would be sold in the local schools. But we also were told about a student who had defaced the surface of his desk, and as a punishment he spent three days in the “factory” where the desks were being made, helping the workmen and observing the painstaking effort that was involved, and we were told, not surprisingly, that the student never defaced a desk again. I’m suggesting that the new curriculum might include a study of producing, consuming and conserving; preparing students not just for college but also for the exciting world of work.
This brings me to commonality number 7. Its true that all people on the planet are different, but it’s also true that we’re all connected to the ecology of this planet in which we are, as Louis Palmas put it “embedded as working parts,” and to be truly educated for the next century, understand our connectedness to nature. David, my 4 year old grandson in Belize, understands these connections very well. He changes words, he bathes in the river, he watches corn being picked and pounded into tortillas and heated over the open fire. But I must tell you that David’s cousins, through no fault of their own, who live in Boston and in Princeton, with the appliances and asphalt roadways and pre-cooked food, find it enormously more difficult to discover their connectedness to nature.