All of the stress of weather-related disasters, political upheaval, concerns with war with North Korea, uncertain economy and stress from all sides makes one ponder the potential solutions and our future, if there are any that seem to be feasible.
Many wonder what is going to happen and who can we blame for all the angst and distrust. I believe that we need to take a real good look in the mirror. One of my favorite people who has ever lived, George W. Carver, (1864-1943) the famous black scientist from Tuskegee University, stated as he aged he found himself wondering, “When I get finished with this life, can it be said that I had a good reason for passing through this time?” Why would this bright and ingenious man ever wonder about his legacy in life on this planet? He was bright and worked to master all subjects that he took in school. He was basically self-educated until he started college at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. He wanted to be an artist but his art teacher, even though she considered him to be the best artist in Iowa, thought that this was not what he should do. There was no way that a man of color, with no family to support him and no money, would realistically be able to find a way to make a living. Carver was approximately 24 years old when he started at Simpson. He had traveled a lot from place to place getting a high school education here and there whenever he could save a few dollars to buy school books and find a school that would accept him. Fortunately, his art teacher recognized this talent and convinced Carver to transfer to what is now Iowa State University and study botany and agriculture, which he did with hesitation. However, because it involved plants, which he loved, he went and excelled. He became a favorite of his professors. He also became a bible scholar, thanks to his dedication to study his bible and one of his professors at the college, Dr. James Wilson, already a bible scholar. Wilson taught dairy science and soil fertility and became a US Secretary of Agriculture after Carver left Iowa. Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanics, ISC, (now Iowa State University) was the most advanced and best agricultural university in the nation and they trained and educated Carver to be the cream of the crop.
Carver went on to be the most decorated black man in history in agriculture and even race relations. He had so many firsts in recognition for both scientific and human relationship awards that it boggles the mind. He has been recognized by a multitude of organizations for his contributions and feats of science. He was the first black man to have a national monument. He was the first black student at ISC, the first black graduate, the first black graduate student and the first black faculty member at ISC. He is still revered at Iowa State for his accomplishments and legacy. He has a whole host of academic awards and schools named for him. He developed over 300 products from the peanut, which is what he seems to be known for, because he could use chemistry to take the peanut apart. He made 118 products from the sweet potato, 75 from cotton and 25 from pecans and made paints from clays for which he has patents but no products. His goal was to help the low-income farmers in Alabama to find a way to survive and make a living. He made very little money in his 40 years of teaching scientific agriculture at Tuskegee Institute but he trained many good scientists.
My question is what are the goals of our own education at the high school, community college and university levels? Not every student desires or needs to go to the university, however, they do need an education so that they can be a productive adult in our society, contributing to their own reason for being alive and passing through this life. Is our school system self-evaluating their own reason for being and teaching our young people, so they too can have a reason for passing through this life? In recent weeks the Wisconsin State Journal has presented numerous articles on jobs and employment opportunities indicating a lack of qualified applicants. I still wonder if our schools see their role in sending quality candidates out into the workforce. I still see many notices in the papers for qualified candidates for positions. I talk to many who offer those jobs, who say that those applying do not have the skills needed to get the advertised positions. Everyone seems to want a job with great benefits, four weeks of vacation to start with, health care insurance and big retirement but many and maybe most job seekers do not see the need to have a clean record, strong work ethic and willingness to learn on the job. They want to work at a job from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and they want to play on their cell phone at work, like they did in school. I wonder if our school system is looking at their product (our graduates) and evaluating their own success. I see MATC want to become Madison College instead of going to industry to find out the skills the various employers need and change their course offerings accordingly. We have UW and a host of other four-year colleges already; we do not need another. What we need is a system of education that provides workers that are needed right now and in the future and I believe that the curriculum needs to be adapted and adjusted to accomplish that tremendous need. Does our system of education provide problem solvers and people that can think?
Because his art teacher recognized who George W. Carver could be, she helped him become educated properly and very famous with little financial support from his employer. Yes, it was 1890 and things were different, but employers still need schools to provide skills for their potential workers so that the worker can excel and provide a good income for their families.
All employers need good workers, so it is just a matter of being aware of the needs and match that with the capabilities of the student, then helping the student achieve their potential and develop good skills for the market and themselves. I encourage the technical and community colleges to accept this challenge and become experts at adapting the training and education they offer very serious and work with all sorts of employers and generate generations of qualified employees.
President John F. Kennedy suggested that we as citizens should: “Ask not what our country can do for us but rather what we can do for our country.”