When our children were young, we once sailed up the Nile in Egypt, and it was the best vacation ever. We loved the hieroglyphics. We marveled at the Pyramids. But the great lesson for our family was realizing how the most advanced society of that ancient world eventually stagnated and collapsed when the people came to believe they knew enough. They lost interest in geometry when they learned enough geometry to build the Pyramids. Their development of writing stopped when they knew enough to record the pharaoh's deeds. For hundreds of years, they knew enough to keep their society just as it was, but eventually it was overrun by outsiders who had continued to progress.
I thought about that the other day when I was reading Tom Friedman's column inThe New York Times, and he commented on Microsoft founder Bill Gates' assertion that technology was moving so quickly and our educational system was so obsolete that eventually he would be unable to hire our kids. Yet as our educational system grows worse, as China and India race to develop the intellectual power to take advantage of the technological explosion, what to do about it is strangely missing in our national dialogue.
Our national debate has veered in another direction, a fierce never-ending argument over cultural and religious differences. Do we really have that luxury? Have we really come to believe we know so much we no longer need to concern ourselves with confronting the future? If that is so, we need not worry about cultural differences. As it was in ancient Egypt, our society will stagnate and eventually be overwhelmed by outside forces.
By Bob Schieffer