Kendall Norris is the chief executive officer for Global Leadership Forum (GLF). The forum’s mission is to inspire young people in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math (STEAM), as well as help older individuals get the experience in these fields to advance to senior positions.

I can almost hear my late grandfather as if he were speaking to me today because he encouraged me a countless number of times to obtain as much education as I could in my lifetime. His reasoning was because “your education is what will take you anywhere you want to go and it is something no one can ever take away from you.”

An acquaintance recently asked me why I thought an excellent education was important. Because of my grandfather’s constant urging, it initially seemed like an absurd question. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized people should be asking that question—and coming up with a good answer. For me, education plays an enormous role in any society and I believe in the U.S. our ideas about education will have to expand greatly and our focus strengthen if we are going to be effective citizens and remain competitive as a nation in the global economy tomorrow.

Before discussing the importance of a well-educated society, I think it is important to consider the dangers of an uneducated society. There are many to consider, but to name a few, they include high unemployment and/or underemployment, poverty, violence, crime, pollution, rampant health issues and ignorance. While all of those social issues are very bad and affect us all one way or another, most can be addressed by some sort of panacea. Poverty can be addressed by charity. Crime and violence can be addressed by greater policing, pollution by more regulations and enforcement and health issues by medical practices. Now, I know those panaceas do not solve for the root problems. The issues that cannot be resolved without a more educated society are unemployment and underemployment and ignorance. I can argue that those to social issues have a far greater impact on the entire society than all of the others because those two issues exacerbate all of the issues caused by under education.

Not only does unemployment affect the families of the unemployed, but also the tax base locally and nationally. High rates of underemployment have very negative impacts on businesses that cannot find qualified workers to support the business. In a free society, all have the right to participate in the political process by voting. We elect our political leaders to make legislative decisions that affect us all. By and large, we are seeing today the exploitation of a vast amount of our population’s ignorance, and it has exposed some sad but true realities. For example, if you look at what dominates the political landscape today you see the poor and uneducated exploited with false narratives, propaganda of all sorts and fear mongering. This can only happen when you have a large swath of the population not living up to their educational potential.

There is a parallel reference to be explored from a historical standpoint. When America was primarily an agrarian society, education was not very important to most people. Communities were separated into two categories: the elite class and the working class. Only the elite were educated, and they were in the minority. Yet, they held more power than the ranchers raising livestock or farmers planting fruits and vegetables. The working class may have had a degree of knowledge, but they were far from educated. As such, the elites were able to propagate their own ideas and knowledge, and thus we had very few making decisions for the many. The same is true today. If people are not educated enough, they may not have the critical thinking skills nor the knowledge of the world around them and how things work to actually discern what is true and what is false.

Better educational opportunities ushered in the progressive evolution away from the agrarian age to the Industrial Revolution. Machinery disrupted the entire economic system of producing and delivering goods and services. The car replaced the horse and buggy, the Whitney gin replaced slave labor picking cotton, the telegraph replaced the Pony Express, and the telephone replaced the telegraph. Manufacturing processes saw strong advancements over the course of a century. All of these advancements were the result of educated individuals contributing to societal “progress.” The revolution in which we are living now, the Digital Revolution, will see far more disruption in much shorter time periods. If this nation is going to stand as a contender, and lead, in the competitive global landscape, it must place a strong emphasis on educating its citizens.

The harsh reality is that it will be virtually impossible to be uneducated and survive in the rapidly changing Digital Revolution. And, because societies are made up of collections of people, if the people are not advanced—or advancing—neither will the society. They go hand in hand. Yet, when people achieve higher levels of education, they develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They make better choices and decisions. They have better opportunities for employment and business, thus there is a greater probability for earning higher incomes. This will create a better fulfillment of life, better health and wellness decisions, and stronger productivity and growth as a whole.

The more educated the country’s citizens are, the more the country will advance and progress. History has proven that.

Technology is advancing rapidly, and education in this society seems to be trying to catch up to the advancements that are happening all over the world.

As it stands now, America’s education system today is severely lacking. We are falling behind in global innovation, and we’re in the middle of the pack when it comes to testing our educational standing compared to other developed nations. Having a high school diploma was the key to vast opportunities once upon a time. That evolved to need an undergraduate degree. Now graduate degrees are the standard for opening many professional doors.

The question we have to ask ourselves is if we believe that each and every person deserves the opportunity to realize and access his or her full potential.

The partners in the Global Leadership Forum absolutely believe that. And, we believe an essential factor is access to a good education. We are working to close the gap to make a world-class education system more accessible to all who choose to achieve whatever level of educational accomplishments they desire.

The benefits of providing that for our citizens, our society, our nation, and our world are simply too great to ignore.

Read more commentaries by Kendall Norris

The Real Power of Relationships: Networking and Mentoring

The Power of a Connected Nonprofit Community

The STEAM Imperative

How Nonprofits Can (And Should) Serve as Catalysts for Transformative Social Change

A Peculiar People by Kendall Norris

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