Don Gale: Education should bring us perspective, creativity and leadership

Our school system pushes too many of us into narrow specialities.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Westlake High School graduates celebrate following commencement ceremonies at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy on Thursday, May 27, 2021.

“Each of us has a singular perspective, always dangerous in its narrowness. Perspective is never fixed. Each of us has the power to improve our vision of the world, of life, of self. Wise men and women never stand on the side of the mountain. Instead, they climb toward the top, where the view promises to be unclouded and expansive. But they know they will never reach that goal. The challenge is in climbing ... in seeing more and more of the wonders around us ... in expanding one’s perspective.”

Those words I wrote in 2004 seem even more appropriate today. So many forces seem to keep our thoughts and our goals on the sides of the mountain, discouraging us from climbing upward.

That’s especially true for education, both public and higher education. Rather than expanding the perspectives of young people, rather than pushing them toward the mountain top, education too often forces them into dark caves on the sides of upward slopes. From that vantage point, perspective will always be limited.

Abundant evidence of the shortcomings of the education system are found in the attack on our Capitol a year ago, in the choices of those who ignore scientific truth about vaccination in favor of false gossip, in the millions of votes cast for Donald Trump, a man who was (and is) uneducated, irresponsible and amoral, in the cave-dwelling congress persons who refuse to consider comments from across the aisle.

But let’s be clear. The fault is not with educators. Most educators understand the rewards that come from climbing higher, from exploring unfamiliar (and sometimes uncomfortable) territory, from expanding one’s perspective. The shortcomings of education are imposed primarily by politicians, business leaders and parents. They seem to want young people to approach life narrowly focused on goals with limited vision, goals on the sides of the mountain rather than near the top.

Lawmakers limit youth potential by requiring too much testing in education curricula. That forces educators to teach for test results rather than teaching to help every student climb toward her or his potential.

Business leaders do it by demanding cookie-cutter graduates – robots instead of creative, thoughtful, caring human beings.

Parents too often care more about little Janie’s financial success than about her social, emotional and creative success.

Higher education has become so filled with narrow caves that students have little time or energy to gain rounded education. The number of specialties or majors on college campuses often draws ridiculously close to the number of faculty members. (Of course, that’s an exaggeration, but …)

Academic departments allow or require students to accumulate too many credit hours in their own disciplines instead of encouraging them to explore diverse fields of study. They pull students off the mountain of wisdom too soon and push them into caves of over-specialization.

Creativity requires combining ideas from different disciplines, different data bases, different perspectives. One cannot combine different perspectives if one’s knowledge perspective is singular. You can’t be creative if your focus is confined to a single discipline.

You can’t lead creatively — whether from the White House, the capitol, or a corner office — if your perspective is limited to what you learned in law school, or so-called STEM classes, or the college of business. One’s ability to be creative requires exposure to the arts, history, sociology, science and most other disciplines available in public and higher education schools.

Acquiring perspective is a critical component of “growing up.” The higher one climbs on the mountain of learning, the more perspective one acquires.

In America today, we are paying the penalty for having too few grownups in positions of leadership.

Don Gale.

Don Gale is a long-time Utah journalist, educator, and perspective gatherer. His education included more science, math, biology, sociology, arts and academic mountain climbing than journalism.