Leo F. Kristjanson - Woodrow Lloyd Memorial Lecture, 1984

Education: A Process of Understanding Each Other

Third Annual Woodrow Lloyd Memorial Lecture, University of Regina

April 19, 1984

It is a pleasure and a privilege to be invited to offer the 1984 Woodrow Lloyd Memorial lecture. The funds which annually sponsor this lecture and the Woodrow Lloyd Memorial Scholarships at both Saskatoon and Regina are a fitting tribute to one who was a truly great statesman and scholar; and a continuing inspiration not only to those who were fortunate enough to know him personally, but to those who know him through his work.

His influence on the education policies at all levels of this Province – and beyond – were significant. But he would have been the first to warn that these policies should be frequently reviewed to determine their adequacy for current conditions. It is my good fortune and privilege to have this opportunity to speak tonight about a few elements of education in critical need of attention at this time.

Education vs. Literacy

The topic chosen, namely, "Education: A Process of Understanding Each Other" implies a definition of education which I firmly believe would have been accepted by Woodrow Lloyd. Though literacy simplifies significantly the task of becoming educated, it is not a substitute for education. This seems to me to be self-evident. Yet we persist in equating literacy levels with levels of education. Literacy – meaning an ability to read and write – has been recognized as inadequate. Now we talk about the need to be "functionally literate", and include the notion that we need to know how to react to such instruments as computers and credit cards if we are going to be considered literate. Neither the narrowly-defined literacy nor the more broadly-defined "functional" literacy should be confused with education. Yet if you look at the programs and expenditures of many educational institutions, the majority of their effort is expended to achieve the goals of literacy rather than the goals of education!

A former colleague, Arthur Davis, provided a rather unique way of expressing the view that pursuing literacy often led – temporarily, at least – to setting aside the pursuit of education. In evaluating job applicants, he was accustomed to asking these questions: "Does he have his Ph.D? Do you think he is over it?" Since so much of the educational system fails to pursue education, it becomes difficult to become an educated person.

We have probably all experienced at some time the feeling that we have been talking to an educated person, though we know that that individual has not studied extensively to pass the literacy tests. We also know those whose academic credentials are numerous, but who are not considered educated. We seem almost intuitively to conclude that the one epitomizes the educated person more than the other. But as Bertrand Russell concluded, though intuition may be enough for "the birds and the bees and Bergson", it is not enough for man trying to understand the dynamics of his society. We must provide some elements of the definition of an educated person in order to proceed with this paper.

There are many who consider the person who is literate in a wide range of subjects to be an educated person. However, it has been my observation that those who are considered educated by consensus of those they come in contact with, are so identified for reasons other than broad literacy.

The educated person is one who analyzes events in terms of their implications for society at large, rather than how they will affect him. That person enjoys virtually all activities he undertakes, thus extending the range of his life well beyond that of his counterparts. The educated person sees changes at least as much as an opportunity to pursue current objectives more effectively – or new objectives – rather than as a threat to past accomplishments. The educated person is one who is constantly excited by the prospects of further learning and is stimulated, therefore, by each new opportunity and challenge. The educated person appears also to make significant contributions throughout his lifetime, rather than ceasing at some artificial retirement age.

These educated people can be found in all professions, in all occupations, and in all areas. They may, or may not, have extensive formal education. What they have in common is a zest for learning, for living, and for contributing to their society that which provides the Impetus for growth in our understanding of each other, and in our respect for the individual. The perception educated people have of the world is not self-oriented – it encompasses long-term change and, consequently, permits not only more diverse solutions, but also more effective solutions.

It is understandably difficult to develop systems which move individuals toward the goal of being an educated person. With the advent of low-cost computer technology, we desire to measure and quantify almost everything for use as crutches in decision-making. We have established some measures of literacy such as reading speeds, vocabulary levels, etc. but we have few – if any – measures of education that can be translated into numbers. Since literacy is a very helpful tool in the pursuit of education, its measurement seems a good proxy for measuring education levels. When the literacy levels are rising in a society, the potential for the society to be educated is improving. However, it cannot be equated with the attainment of that potential. Sad to say, too many of us in the field of education take refuge in these numbers to justify support for educational institutions and entrenched programs. The consequence is something I would call pseudo-education – with some very serious consequences for society.

Canada – An Economic Lebanon?

The substitution of literacy and skills training for education in our society has been a major factor in creating an "economic Lebanon" in Canada. If a visitor from another planet or galaxy were to arrive on Earth and study the processes by which Lebanon has been struggling to solve its religious and political problems, and also study the processes by which Canada is struggling to solve her economic problems, there is little doubt that numerous parallels would be evident – not the least of which is the futility and inhumanity of both.

Western society has achieved material progress in the last One hundred years which is nothing short of spectacular. The physical necessities of life are now broadly accessible to all. It is a great tribute to the builders of our society that within a few short generations, they have not only made tuberculosis and the bubonic plague unknown to the society, but have made technological advances to the point where material comforts are available to and affordable by virtually all.

Yet in the face of this we have the spectre, in response to current adjustment problems in the economy, of factions each independently trying to stake out pieces of territory – and in the process creating an economic Lebanon. Daily, young adults by the hundreds and thousands (and others) are losing their enthusiasm and falling into despondency because the jobs which we have taught them are the way to status, and the way to make a contribution to the society, are not available to them. These same people observe society making the judgment that it cannot afford a sufficient number of homes for senior citizens, or that it must reduce counselling services to delinquents, or that pollution control devices cannot be afforded. Yet the same society leaves unemployed a large number of trained and skilled people capable of providing these same goods and services.

One segment of the economy which has been particularly adversely affected by changes in the economy is the construction industry. The response of organized labour has been to attack the procedures which allocates some of the scarce opportunities to unorganized labour – particularly if it is from outside the province. Construction company owners reorganize to facilitate more extensive use of non-union labor. The sum total of these responses is increased confrontation, rather than economic adjustment.

The agricultural sector has fared no better. For several Years as the economic crises in Canada multipled, the policy-makers in the private and the public sectors continued to explain the need for increased productivity, stable prices, and growth in exports. Ways were sought to provide incentives to achieve these objectives. However, at the same time the agricultural sector was achieving all of those objectives, its rewards were declining prices for its products coupled with increased prices for the transportation, fuel, and processing services sector members were forced to buy!

There has been a suggestion that governmental deficits are a significant factor in inhibiting economic recovery. Yet almost every Suggestion for changes in tax policy (such as eliminating some tax avoidance schemes) or expenditure policy (such as decreased health or education expenditures), is greeted with pronouncements that these, too, will inhibit recovery.

An extra-terrestrial visitor could be forgiven for believing that our policies are not fully consistent with our objectives. And so it will remain until we are able to replace our parochial views with those of truly educated people.

Security vs. Dignity?

A major factor in the development of our economic Lebanon has been a failure to distinguish between the primary goal of security, and the ultimate goal of dignity in both our own objectives and those of our governmental institutions.

We should ask ourselves, is the desire of a farmer to own his land related to the security this gives, or is it related to the ability to make an independent decision when to apply his or her labour? Is the despondency which students feel when they cannot get a job related to a fear for their own security, or is it related to the desire for what they perceive as a dignified existence? How much of the struggle of natlves, the handicapped, and women is related to having enough to eat – and how much is related to the acceptance by the society of their status as full and equal human beings? Do the aged become passive because that is the natural process of age, or is it because they are fed through a syringe in an assembly line in a senior citizens' home?

When starvation is imminent for an individual or his or her family, then physical needs become uppermost in the mind. In situations where this is the case, the responsibility of any society to provide those needs is fundamental to all else.

In mature industrial societies, the prospect of starvation rare, and does not explain the retrenchment. What is it, then, that leads us to create an economic lebanon when we are required to make basic adjustments in the economy? At the other end of the continuum, what is it that explains the positive approach – reflected in an objective and ongoing search for solutions – of some individuals, despite obstacles?

As I have struggled with this question over the years, I have come to the conclusion that beyond basic physical needs, man's search is not a search for security, but rather a search for dignity.

In feudal society, status was awarded to those who held the land. Over four hundred years of history, the feudal society gave way to a mercantile society where status was awarded to ship owners plying the high seas (it is interesting to speculate when and how the North American continents would have been discovered had it not been for the status awarded to explorers who ventured out to find new routes during the height of mercantilism). The mercantile society was replaced by industrial capitalism in the eighteenth and nineteenth century which, in turn, was replaced by financial capitalism in the twentieth century.

In each case, the individuals who possessed the status made the economic rules which were most beneficial to their interests. In each case, a period of turmoil and transition took place as the economic adjustments were made to move from one type of economic domination to another.

 

There are some who believe that we are currently in transition from a period of domination by financial capital to what has Been termed an "information society". The information society gives power to those who own and control the new scientific knowledge and processes. The extent to which this power will be vested in the public sector, as opposed to the private sector, is still being determined.

A recession is a sign that this basic economic adjustment is taking place. Wealth in society is being redistributed. Those who accumulated wealth under the financial capital system sense the status shifting to other groups. There is a fear that this will mean a loss of status and, in turn, a loss of dignity – drastic moves are made on the part of those who had accumulated capital in order to retain it. New lobbies are formed. Advertising campaigns are undertaken. Protective measures are demanded of government.

Political ties, and public acquiesence gleaned by clever and subtle persuasion, have the desired effect. Additional resources are allocated to individual vested interests. A vicious cycle results, with each group perceiving that it has no choice but to stake out other independent ground in order not to find itself in a worsened position. Those without market power in the current order – such as the unemployed – are required to absorb the shocks in the cross-fire as groups lash out at each other to protect what they have, or to stake their own claims in the new power structure.

If I am right that the retrenchment of groups and individuals is caused less by a fear of loss of physical security than by a loss of dignity, then our priority should be on designing means of giving individuals and groups dignity. Surely we can find a way to share the new power structure in such a way that large groups are not excluded from participating and, therefore, excluded from a dignified existence. The wealth of the system is adequate – if that is our will.

Opportunities for Change

For centuries philosophers and theologians have agreed that material well-being alone does not provide human dignity. Dignity comes more from using talents and abilities to make a contribution in society, and is enhanced if that contribution is in some way recognized.

We do have something within our grasp to deal with these problems. It is something in which we can all participate in bringing to fruition. It is exciting, and it is unique because of the character of the investment.

Education, as we have defined it, utilizes human capacity. The task of educational institutions is to stimulate human potential, i.e., latent capacity, and cause that capacity to be realized. The investments required are both private and public. Individually, we can all allocate time and effort to the process. Governments can – and must – invest in resources through which education is acquired; government, business and industry can – and must – sanction the right of their employees to utilize these resources to the benefit of the society in general. Indeed, investment in education is the critical requirement to leading us out of the economic Lebanon.

Investment in realizing human potential is unique. The results can only be described as a form of capital – human capital. Such an investment pays a return to life's end; for enhanced thought processes result in sounder conclusions, regardless of the facts to which they are applied. Equally important, investment in human capital provides a cumulative return, for each investment pays a perpetual dividend into the future. No such investment need ever be wasted.

In a broad sense, education develops the human capital which makes possible necessary economic adjustments that will incorporate new technology without forfeiting human dignity. Indeed, education is the ultimate source of dignity for all of us.

Of equal import is the fact that human capital can always be rejuvenated. Manufacturing plants and buildings become ineffectual and have to be destroyed, only to be rebuilt at great expense – modern technology demands new structures. The human mind bypasses all these inefficiencies, and has built in adaptability, flexibility, and resilience. All it needs is the will to recreate. But human capital is infinite: each individual mind has unlimited potential, and the potential for re-creation is never lost. I know of no other kind of capital which can be infinitely expanded without doing damage to the surrounding resources.

Human capital is easiest to create at a young age. Just as the young are most vulnerable to accepting without question the standards of status they observe around them in the society, so the young find it most natural, when given encouragement, to think innovatively and creatively. A higher level of education which is common to the whole society is most efficiently achieved if it is addressed systematically with the young. Investment in human capital can develop educated people in the way we have defined them, it can lead us out of the economic lebanon, and it can give individuals and groups confidence to pursue dignity rather than security.

Investment in human capital, therefore, holds the potential for both individuals and groups to be freed of the vicious spiral of withdrawal, retrenchment, and human suffering.

For the individuals or groups erecting barriers to protect their status, education has the potential to free the understanding which, in turn, lays the groundwork for the comprehension that, indeed, it is not economic status which is the fundamental source of dignity. The need to protect one's status thus becomes less pervasive, and the way is once more open to innovative thought about how to provide human capital with access to other resources.

Security is a worthwhile and important human objective; but security without dignity fails to motivate positive action. Dignity that is seen to arise from other than economic status will lessen the need to independently stake out our territory and, in turn, encourage investment in human capital. Individuals and groups who are the recipients of such confidence, will respond to the continuing benefit of society.

 

Interestingly enough, it is those who have continued to learn throughout their lives who, in my experience, have become the fascinating individuals I talked about at the beginning of this paper – the ones who inspire and radiate life and continue to challenge the rest of us, because they have sufficient dignity to ignore all the standards the rest of us think we have to live by, and just keep on making a contribution.

[Original available in President's Office fonds, series 6, Presidential records of L.F. Kristjanson, file 620-8-2, Speeches: education. – 1981-1984]