Education as the Key to Progress
In the second edition of my book Who
Mentored You: The Person Who Changed my Life, seventy-eight prominent people recalled
how mentors contributed to their success in life by influencing
and advising them in their earlier years. Since March is National
Women's History Month, I must point out that many of the leaders
featured in this special book are written by women of outstanding
accomplishment who have not only contributed significantly
to their fields of expertise but also changed society at large.
There are excerpts from incredible leaders such as Marian Wright
Edelman, Carol Bellamy, Elizabeth Dole, Whoopi Goldberg, Maya
Lin, Diane Sawyer, Muriel Siebert, Lillian Vernon, Jessye Norman
and many other inspiring women that will leave you in awe.
All of these celebrated personalities mention how their mentors
helped inspire and instruct them and drove them to achieve
the pinnacle of success.
These powerful stories make clear
that the most valuable message mentors delivered to them
was the vital importance of getting the best education possible
because education is the key that opens the door to opportunity.
Certainly, in the past, there were people who were able to
succeed in life despite the disadvantage of a limited traditional
education. But since then the world has grown incredibly
complex and demanding of formal education. Abraham Lincoln–who is regarded as perhaps the greatest
president we ever had and unquestionably the most eloquent–had
little more than a year in school. He had the strength of character
and conviction to educate himself through classic literature
and law books. But the chance of another Lincoln appearing
on the scene is negligible. Every day the relentless advancement
of exquisite technology calls for a higher and higher skill
level in workers across every field. Globalization creates
another strong pressure that can be dealt with only by increasing
the amount of education received by our workers. Now workers
in India, China, Malaysia and Mexico vie with the American
workforce to produce goods and services. Most of the services
provided by the workforce overseas are far less expensive than
the services of the American workforce because the standard
of living in these countries is much lower than ours.
Unless we want to reduce our own standard of living, we need
to increase the level of our technology so that we can produce
goods and services of a quality that our competitors cannot
match because of our technological advantage. That requires
that we have highly skilled workers in the United States or
our businesses will find highly skilled workers elsewhere.
Right now–as hard as it is to believe–although
we are the richest and most powerful nation in world history,
only 1 in 5 of our workforce are highly skilled. Generally
the designation "highly skilled" requires 4 years
of education after secondary school. Nearly two hundred years
ago the states of our nation recognized that for the nation
to progress, our people would need to have a level of education
suitable to handle the level of complexity in our economy.
States back then, like New York, established the minimum standard
of 12 years of education through secondary school and the need
for workers at that level was considered vital. As a consequence,
the states provided the education to everyone, rich or poor,
in public schools.
It is difficult to understand–notwithstanding
two hundred years of technical progress; why the minimum
level of education in this country has not been lifted at
least to the college level. Maybe the fact that we are now
losing more and more jobs to workers overseas: skilled and
unskilled, will inspire us to start making up for the terrible
lag in our level of educational excellence that we have allowed
to exist for so long.
During National Women's History Month, it's interesting to
note that according to a new poll from Junior Achievement,
there is a growing gender gap between girls and boys now when
it comes to careers requiring higher education. In all, 73.9%
of girls believe they need a four-year degree or graduate degree
to obtain their dream job, while 61.5% of boys believe they
do. One of the principle objectives of the Mentoring USA program
is to help our youth meet the need they correctly perceive
by promoting the educational enrichment for all children.
As a nation, we should learn a lesson that is expressed over
and over by our good mentors to our respected leaders in my
book Who Mentored You: The Person who
Changed my Life: education
is the key to individual and personal success and also the
future progress of our great nation.#
Matilda Raffa Cuomo is the former
First Lady of the City New York. She is Founder and Chair,
Mentoring USA and Chair, National Committee for Advanced
Placement Italian Language Course & Examination.