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American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

December 2007

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The International Affairs Council of Raleigh has given the Citizen of the World Award annually since 1995 to honor the North Carolinian who has done the most for the internationalization of the state. In 1998 the President of American Diplomacy Publishers, Ambassador Jeanette Hyde, received the award. This year Dr. Jim Goodnight, the President of SAS Software, located in Cary, North Carolina, received the award. In these remarks accepting the award, delivered on October 25, 2007, Dr. Goodnight warns that the United States is faced with a clear and present danger because our educational system is failing and we are therefore falling behind in the key areas of science, technology and math. He urges that we redouble our efforts to improve our educational system at all levels. American Diplomacy has received permission from Dr. Goodnight to publish his important remarks. — Assoc. Ed.

Globalization and Our Failing Education System: A Clear and Present Danger

It's an honor to receive this award. A few years ago the term “Citizen of the World” might have described a person who was well-traveled, or a diplomat who worked across geographical and political boundaries.

But in today's global economy everyone is connected. It's just as easy for me to call or send a message to one of our customers in Pretoria, South Africa as it is to Peoria, Illinois.

As you know a global economy is a two-edged sword. While it means that new markets and opportunities are open to American firms, it also means that everyone else in the world can compete for our markets.

It wasn't that long ago that Mt. Airy, about 138 miles from this room, was the undisputed leader in hosiery.

Today, the hosiery capital of the world has moved more than eight thousand miles from here to Tirupur, India. And there are many other such examples from the textile and furniture industries.

Back in the late 1990s everyone was worried that computers around the world would crash at the stroke of 12 midnight on December 31, 1999. Companies outsourced the tedious task of code checking to places like India. And when Y2K came and went those same organizations began bidding on other information technology projects. Their new expertise, combined with their experience and low cost, made them competitive with American companies.

In the 2007 book titled Dancing with Giants the authors point out that China and India's “vast labor forces and expanding skills imply massive productive potential.” The United States must be prepared to counter this huge Asian potential.

A few weeks ago, October 4, marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik.

I was in ninth grade in Wilmington at the time. Our country was shocked! We thought we were the greatest nation on earth, but suddenly realized that if the Soviets could put a satellite in orbit, they could rain down their nuclear weapons on us at the press of a button. To borrow a phrase from Tom Clancy, we were faced with a clear and present danger.

The country mobilized. Congress mobilized. They passed the National Defense Education Act, and President Eisenhower signed it in 1958. It gave money and grants to universities, high schools, middle schools, even private schools, to get involved with more science and math and to fund research labs. It poured money into our school systems to stimulate teaching and interest in engineering.

Kids were going off to college like they were going off to war. I left in 1961 to major in applied math at NC State.

The last 50 years, as a result of the major emphasis on science and math, has helped the United States produce more technological advancements than in the history of man.

Today, we are in a similar predicament as we were 50 years ago. But people can not see a clear and present danger.

But, believe me; it is coming at us like a speeding train.

Today, there are young minds around the world who will be tomorrow's innovators. And that's because they are working tirelessly, right now, to gain knowledge in the STEM skills, science, technology, engineering, and math.

In the new book A Class Apart, the principal of one of the top high schools in the country says:

The problem we face now is that a lot of kids really don't want to go into the math and science fields because it is more difficult than some of the other subject areas. Kids don't want to take the tough subjects and struggle through them and parents don't want to see the kids struggle that hard.

Last month the College Board reported that SAT scores declined again in 2007, the second year in a row.

The United States now ranks seventeenth in the developed world in the percent of kids graduating from high school.

Over one third of our kids that start ninth grade do not finish high school.

We must find ways to keep these kids interested in learning.

In this information age challenges that require STEM skills will only increase in the years to come. And if American students aren't equipped to do the work, there are tens of millions of workers in Asia who will step in and take those jobs. And the next generation of American workers will become service workers.

Let me share a few numbers with you. In 2006 the United States had 1.3 million college graduates, India had 3.1 million, and China 3.3 million. In India 100% of those college graduates speak English.

If ever there was a time for us to act, it is now. We as leaders in business, government, education, and the community must redouble our efforts toward educating our kids.

The current generation of children is the most technology savvy generation that we have ever had.

I often say that today's kids are born with a cell phone in one hand and an i-Pod in the other.

They text message each other, send IM's to each other, use “My Space,” “You Tube,” and Google.

They play games on their Nintendos, Playstations … and X-boxes.

Yet when they come to school, they leave their world behind and enter a classroom with a teacher at a blackboard, teaching the same way as when you and I were in school.

Education has not changed, but this new generation of kids has, and they are bored, and they are dropping out.

We need to adapt our educational system to this new generation of kids.

When Cary Academy was founded over 10 years ago, we made technology an integral part of the process, with a computer for every child. And SAS helped by developing curriculum material that could be used in the classroom. The kids there are excited. They all graduate and go on to college.

Fortunately, North Carolina is beginning to make some progress in this area. The legislature, Governor Easley, and The Golden Leaf Foundation have provided funding to purchase laptop computers one-on-one for eight pilot high schools this year. Hunt High School in Wilson County is already up and running. The rest will come online later this year.

So North Carolina is beginning to understand the huge competitive challenge we face from Asia and we are moving on this initiative.

Before I came here tonight I looked at the list of people you have named Citizen of the World in previous years. I am honored to be in their company. And like them I see the incredible potential of our great state and of the people who call North Carolina home.

I look forward to working with you to keep North Carolina strong, competitive, and safe for many generations to come. Thank you ….

Dr. Goodnight is CEO of SAS, the world's leading business intelligence software vendor. SAS is also one of the world's largest privately owned software companies. He and his company have been profiled on "60 Minutes," and SAS makes most of the "Best Places to Work" lists. Goodnight is a member of the Business Roundtable and participates actively in the World Economic Forum. In 2004 Harvard named him one of the "20th Century's Great American Business Leaders.”


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