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A Detour on the Information Superhighway
Alexander M Zoltai

Bill Clinton and I share a span of history that's seen America emerge as the mother of superpowers and evolve into a broker of global transformation. He became the figurehead of the American Dream-vitiated again-while I've become a poetic foil to glamorous, vacuous promises.

Among the many threatening shadows engulfing America's bright promise is the lurking menace of its educational system. In a world going global at the speed of light, in a country blessed with technological excellence, young s reach college, in alarming numbers, needing remedial Math and English and having completely fuzzy notions of how the world really works.

From my own experience with American education and my experience with the latest educational technologies, it appears clear that all the most marvelous tools will rust and break if the inner spirit of our youth is neglected.

One of the most promising educational tools is the Internet. One of the saddest commentaries on the spiritual condition of America's youth can be witnessed by entering almost any -room--an area for immediate communication--that all to often becomes an alley for adolescent fantasy. With the whole world tuned-in to America's Internet behavior, it's no wonder other countries that crave our technology also deplore our life-style.

The fact that a technology that can span the globe, provide an ever-broadening view of humanity, and serve to induce an awareness of world citizenship is used to ameliorate the usual frustrations of alienated individuals is an indication of the yawning gulf that separates technology's promise from its use.

Certainly, a person who uses it can use the Internet to communicate with globally dispersed friends, download courses of instruction, participate in world-spanning seminars, or gather the information necessary to aid them in their creative endeavors.

Certainly, the Internet and all of its technological cousins can be incorporated into an educational system to broaden its foundations, enliven its pedagogics, and stimulate its students.

Just as certainly, a system of education bogged down in materialistic administration, hampered by bureaucratic agendas, and throttled by teachers gasping for recognition of the herculean tasks set before them will falter and fall, even with the most advanced technology available.

Ignore the technologies? No. Revamp the administrative structures? Possibly. Find a way to instill a new spirit into the educational process? Most certainly!

Bill Clinton and I share a portion of American history that calls to account the American Dream, especially in the arena of education.

In a book called Rereading America: ural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing, the editors say:

Education works to socialize young people-to teach them the values, beliefs, and skills central to their society…. Even within the same ure, the goals of education shift with the changing concerns of the larger society. [1]

It's becoming more and more apparent that today's shift is towards a global economy and an allegiance to world citizenship.

Referring to nineteenth-century educator and reformer Horace Mann they say:

…thus, he maintained, universal education is "the great equalizer of the conditions of men…." [2]

And, in referring to turn-of-the-century educational theorist, John Dewey:

The national interest, in his view, could be served only by developing fully the talents and abilities of all citizens: "only by being true to the full growth of all the individuals who make it up, can society by any chance be true to itself." [3]

Then, they ask the question:

Does education truly empower us, or are these empty promises?

Modern technology promises complete transmutation of the fabric of education-American or global. And, the electronic information superhighway is one of the best paths available right now leading American citizens to an education that prepares them for a global society. Will the promise of this path be betrayed by a generation of enervated materialists? The jury is still out…

There is a Community of people on this globe who are certain that humanity's future is still bright, in spite of whatever turmoil and suffering must still be waded through. They believe that individuals with a strong spiritual core can wield the new tools of technology and build a global community with ever-advancing prosperity for all. In a statement entitled Science and Technology for Human Advancement, addressed to the United Nations Conference on Science and Technology for Development in Vienna, Austria in August 1979, this Community said:

The Bahá'í Faith has, since its inception over 100 years ago, considered science and technology essential to the full development of the individual and of society. It has always regarded development as an all-encompassing process-including the physical, mental, and spiritual well being of all peoples-and has considered that science and technology, channeled properly, can help to achieve this goal for all nations. The Bahá'í world community has also stressed the importance of education-of training in the arts and sciences on a universal scale. The growth of the mind, the breadth of human learning, and the person's ability to solve complex problems are a cause of individual happiness, greatness, and peace. A man or a woman well-trained and accomplished in the scientific method is, in the Bahá'í view, a "true index of humanity," and possessors of scientific knowledge have a great right among peoples. Science and technology that are directed toward the good of humanity are indeed praiseworthy achievements. In the Bahá'í view, human beings exist to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. Science and technology have in this century made possible the physical unification of the planet and made evident the interdependence of all nations and peoples. While social, economic, and political structures have not yet caught up with this oneness of humanity, rapid scientific development continues to perfect the instruments that make this unity possible. Since the poor, particularly in developing countries, are still deprived of most of the benefits of scientific progress, national and international means for a better distribution and application of existing knowledge are essential. It has become clear, however, that even in the most advanced countries, present material development cannot be sustained into the future; and even more important, that it does not lead to the happiness and tranquillity of mankind. For if material civilization outruns the social and spiritual progress of man, as it does today, it will cause great harm and threaten the of the human race. [5]

How can we tell the young person, so bright and eager, that their plans to master their lives and assure their future well-being are hobbled by false hopes and destined to fail? And, because of very direct sociological connections, it can be asked, how do we account for an alarming increase in s among our youth?

Isn't it time to re-evaluate what it means to be an American, and, more importantly, a world citizen? Re-evaluate the bottom line of our humanity? Ask, once again, the ancient question: "Why am I alive?"


[1] Rereading America: ural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing, Editors - Colombo, Gary; Cullen, Robert; and, Lisle, Bonnie (Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin's Press, Third Edition, 1995), p. 16.

[2] Ibid, p. 17.

[3] Ibid, p. 18.

[4] Ibid.

[5] . /79-0820.htm (accessed 5 Nov 98)

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Alexander M Zoltai, Far Shore Publications, 1998-1999