We Produced These Leaders: Where Did We Fail?
John N. Gardner
On the weekend that one of the three US credit rating agencies announced it was down grading the credit rating of the United States of America, and accompanied this with a statement which the whole world has also been thinking and saying—namely that the US government had become dysfunctional and could no longer be relied on as the pillar of stability in a highly unstable world—I found myself wondering what could we higher educators have done to prevent this sorry state of affairs? After all, we did provide college educations for these Congressional leaders who have succeeded in manufacturing a crisis that did not need to happen.
*How did we produce such ideologues? Didn’t we educate them to think more critically and analytically?
*Didn’t we educate these future Congressional representatives about the perils of interjecting religion into politics—separation of church and state, etc?
*Didn’t we teach them Econ 101 and basic history of economic depressions and recessions in this country—and most importantly what happened in 1937 when the Democrats cut off the stimulus and threw the country back into the Depression again only to be extricated by World War II?
*Didn’t we teach these adults anything about basic manners, courtesy, decent listening skills, a modicum of tolerance?
*Didn’t we teach them anything about seeking consensus and compromise? Apparently not. They have just learned win at all costs?
*What did we teach them in student government? Surely many of them were campus pols?
*Didn’t we teach them anything about big picture thinking, about the need to pursue the common good, occasionally putting the needs of the overall body politic above personal interests?
*Just what did we teach them? What did we do that had any lasting impact?
*And most importantly, how can we do better going forward. The most common purpose all of us have in higher education, no matter what our roles, our disciplines, our institutional types is: producing the next generation of our country’s leaders. We all have to own this. We have them in each and every one of our classes and student organizations, teams, anywhere we gather students in officially sponsored institutional activities, credit and non-credit.
Surely we can do better. Even more surely, we must.