Are We Meeting the Change of the New World?

Like every other segment of our nation’s critical infrastructure, the field of k-12 education must change dramatically in the next 10 years to thrive and survive in our rapidly and dramatically changing world. During to a recent trip to teach in Ho Chi Minh City, I thought I should learn more about Vietnam and Asia as a whole. I read the book China Inc. The book is a fascinating and sobering read. Author Ted Fishman makes a pretty strong case that China may supplant the United States as the world’s leading power within the next decade. Providing an array of compelling statistics, Fishman lays out an astounding case for the unprecedented growth of the Chinese economy.

The figures for manufacturing job loss in Malaysia, Mexico, Japan, Korea and the United States are compelling. The global impact of the wholesale disregard for patents and copyrights in China is reverberating daily in our nation. The emphasis on improvements in higher education to allow China to substantively increase efficiency in manufacturing causes concern. Though the United States has not been as hard hit as some other countries, the author makes a strong case that we will likely be impacted even harder in years to come.

Though I found Vietnam to be underdeveloped compared to the United States, dramatic change is occurring there as well. Also encountering fierce competition from the Chinese, the emphasis on economic growth in the country is starkly apparent. It seems as thought nearly every house has a business. Homes contain stores selling an unbelievable array of wares that are often made in other houses where primitive, yet effective, miniature factories turn out carefully crafted guitars, shoes, clothing and other goods.

Though many American jobs are now closely tied to factories in China, Germany, Korea and other countries, our way of life will surely continue to change in the coming years. Paying more attention to labels has made me realize that my new stainless steel gas grill, my Japanese brand laptop computer, DVD player and even most of my hunting clothes and deer stands were all made in China.

During a conversation with Dr. Tony Baldwin, associate superintendent of the Buncombe County School System in North Carolina, the topic of international competition and the global economy came up. Dr. Baldwin visited classrooms in China and was deeply impressed with the intense focus of students he saw there. He feels the implications for American education are immense. He spoke also of the increasing number of X-rays that are shipped overnight to India because qualified technicians there can read them and e-mail results back to America for a fraction of the cost of American technicians. Our world is changing and education must address these changes. This raises the issue of discipline order and safety in American schools.

There are still many schools where discipline order and safety are not adequate. While many schools and school systems have made dramatic strides, others are clearly lagging behind. I remember talking with a school official from one of our nation’s larger school systems. He told me that huge fights are a daily occurrence in some of his district’s schools and that many of their secondary schools suffer nothing short of chaotic conditions. About two weeks after we spoke, I saw his district singled out as having one of the nation’s lowest graduation rates for large urban districts. A number of the districts listed in the story have also been plagued by discipline and safety issues. There is little doubt that children cannot learn and teachers cannot teach in chaotic environments. For schools to achieve what they need to, they must first ensure a safe and orderly learning environment.

Like their American counterparts, the schools of Vietnam will play a key role in determining the level of economic growth and thus the very quality of life there in coming years. The future of our way of life will be determined in American classrooms. Should safety, order and discipline be lacking, we will clearly not fare as well.

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at