The world as classroom
Kentucky School Advocate
By Mike Armstrong
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
One of the consistent messages that I heard all across the Commonwealth when I attended the Kentucky Department of Education’s state-wide Town Hall/Listening Tour meetings hosted by Commissioner Stephen Pruitt was the importance and value of an accountability model that guarantees our high school graduates are “college and career ready.”
And while the next generation of the accountability model will undoubtedly include measures of both student academic work and other valuable data, there is, in my opinion, one very important intangible component that needs to be both encouraged and even modeled by educators and our partners. That is the incredible value associated with travel and all of the benefits that come from experiencing new and uncustomary sights, sounds and suppers!
My wife, Toni, and I recently returned from visiting Spain – specifically the capital city of Madrid and the Mediterranean coastal city of Barcelona. This was our first time there and indeed the sights, sounds and suppers were both educational and enlightening. The visit, in and of itself, doesn’t make me a better person, but the overall opportunity to listen and learn from the cab drivers, restaurant waiters and hotel staff made quite an impression on me.
Most of the people filling these roles were young adults. And almost to a person, as soon as they determined that we were from the U.S. and that English was our language of choice, they consistently used the opportunity to practice their English with a multitude of questions. As such, I made the following observations.
Spain’s tourism business is staffed by not only native Spaniards, but we also met young people native to Portugal, France, Italy, Germany, England, Scotland, Israel, Syria, Russia, China and Japan. And not only could they not wait to practice their English, but they also shared their desire to ultimately live in the U.S. – to study in a college/university here, and then work and live here. They are saving their wages and tip money. Those still in school are working to earn the highest grade(s) possible in their studies, acknowledging the intense competition to study in the U.S. Those not native to Spain especially acknowledged the benefits of living and working in a foreign country as a necessary prerequisite to successfully making it to the U.S.
(The Institute of International Education, Open Doors Data reports “In 2014-15 international students increased 10 percent over the prior year, the highest rate of growth since 1978/79.” That increase equates to 974,926 international students studying in the U.S. Foreign students rank business & management and engineering as their top two fields of study. Education is ranked 10th.)
Wow – what I learned in my two weeks of lessons in civics, sociology, history, geography and foreign languages. The world continues to grow flatter and flatter each and every day. And I am more than ever convinced that it is imperative for us to encourage, entice, cajole, coax and persuade Kentucky students to explore not only their backyards, but to likewise see both this country and the countries that are foreign to us. Not only should our students be college and career ready and able to compete on a Kentucky stage, but they need to be competitive on a world stage.
I’m confident that Kentucky’s students are more than capable of fairly competing for the limited number of higher education seats and the jobs that follow. I am not advocating that we close the door to any international students.
What I am encouraging and advocating is for our students to make the purposeful time and effort to experience a different culture and language and enhance their portfolio of challenging encounters. Their peers around the world are doing so with vigor. If we don’t keep pace with this effort, our students will ultimately suffer.