Saturday, October 4, 2008

The race between education and catastrophe (1966/1972)

The Rodda Project: A graduation speech

In 1966, Senator Rodda was invited to give the commencement speech for the graduation ceremonies at Phineas Banning Adult School in Wilmington, a city in southern California. Sen. Rodda took the opportunity to speak on one of his favorite topics: the power of education to preserve and improve our lives. It was a cautionary speech, acknowledging both the increasing impact of technology on employment opportunities and the relative neglect of the important of vocational education. The dark tone may have derived from the Senator's concerns over the upheaval and pessimism of the 1960s.

Rodda kept a copy of his Banning Adult School remarks in his files. This text is from the 1972 revision of the original 1966 speech. He probably updated it slightly to keep it more current, as he would often send copies of his papers in response to inquiries from constituents and reporters. However, there is no indication that he ever used the text again in a spoken presentation.


Graduation Ceremonies
Phineas Banning Adult School
Wilmington, California

Senator Albert S. Rodda

June 16, 1966
(Revised on March 29, 1972)

Today, we live in an age in which H. G. Wells' dictum that human survival is “a race between education and catastrophe” is no longer quoted as pious rhetoric. It is regarded as a frightening possibility full of a terror which derives from the known potential for destruction of thermonuclear weapons. The destructive power of the H Bomb is so vast that it almost defies description; and clearly establishes the fact that resort to total war by Russia and the United States will destroy mankind and civilization.

The destructive capability of a thermonuclear way may be judged from the following description of the results of an imagined explosion of a 20 megaton bomb over Los Angeles:
“It will create a crater one-half mile long and 250 feet deep; it will produce complete destruction over an area three miles in diameter, severe blast damage over an area eight miles in diameter and moderate damage over an area twelve miles from the point of the explosion of a diameter of twenty-four miles.”
Incidentally, modern H Bombs are 100 megaton size—5 times as destructive.

His awareness of the horrible destructiveness of modern war prompted Bertram Russell, the English philosopher, to suggest, in a quiet commentary, that it is too late to educate the young people for a peaceful world; and that, if we are to have peace, we must concentrate on the education of adults. It was Russell's conviction that the critical decisions which will determine the fate of civilization were being made every day and that any “breakthrough” in organizing the world for peace must be achieved immediately by the generation in power.

The urgency of the world situation, therefore, in Russell's view, mandated the education of adults in the means of achieving a peaceful world.

Although Russell's statement was made over a decade ago, it is no less valid today, for the imminence of total war has not been removed by the passage of time; if anything, its proximity is even closer. There must, therefore, be a continuing education of adults in those areas of knowledge which impinge upon the issue of war and peace. And this must be a never ending activity—carried on through the public forum, formal classes in adult education, educational television, public discussion in the journals and newspapers of our time, and in the institutions of higher education and the chambers of our law-making bodies.

If education for a peaceful world is a major responsibility of education, it is not the only one. For there are other responsibilities worthy of our attention.

Education has acquired a new dimension in recent times. This is a result primarily of the changes which have taken place in our society and which continue to take place. The condition of change is summed up in the words “automation” and “cybernation.”

Automation is defined as “the automatically .controlled operation of production which takes the place of human effort.”

Cybernation is “the use of mechanical-electrical communication systems to supplement or replace brainpower in problem solving or analysis.” Everywhere in our society, in government, as well as industry, there is a high rate of substitution of machines and computers for human skills and human intelligence.

The result, of course, is a dynamic society characterized by a rapidly changing technology.

The general effect is satisfactory; the productivity of workers increases, costs of production are reduced, the prices of commodities are lowered, larger quantities of goods and services are made available, and new products are put on the market. All of this is progress and it must be entered on the positive or benefit side of the ledger.

To illustrate the benefits which flow from the computerization of society one can suggest quite seriously that in the absence of the computer, social security, Medicare, and industrial fringe benefit programs would involve so much unmanageable paper work that their cost would be prohibitive and that in the absence of automation many products could not be produced at marketable prices and that in the absence of the electronic brain, the problems involved in the mastery of outer space would be beyond solution; and finally, that, without “systems analysis,” the efficient planning and management of industry would be greatly impaired.

On the negative side of the ledger there are, however, the adverse effects of technological progress. Persistent technological innovation, for example, produces a continuous imbalance between the demand and supply for labor skills. The imbalance is characterized by a surplus of old skills, for which there is no longer a need and a simultaneous unfulfilled demand for new and highly specialized technical capabilities.

This fact of economic life impresses itself upon the worker in the form of the persistent threat of job obsolescence and unemployment and upon the industrialist in the form of labor shortage and unmet product demand.

The frustrations experienced by both management and labor have come into focus as educational problems of a serious and growing significance. The result has been immediately apparent in its impact on the schools.

First, many conventional programs in vocational and technical education have been made useless and obsolete.

Second, the schools have been placed in a position of having to build more flexibility into the vocational curriculum through the rapid introduction of new courses and the serious modification of old ones.

Third, in response to the changing occupational pattern, close cooperation between the schools and the local community has developed as a practical means of providing the schools with a vocational and technical curriculum better designed to meet the community's changing labor market.

Fourth, the schools have launched a vigorous attack against illiteracy as a vital part of the war on poverty and unemployment, and, finally, a tremendous effort is being made to reduce the school dropout rate and to continue teenagers in school long enough for them to acquire either a professional, vocational or technical education.

The educational response to change and innovation in the economy must be the education of our youth more practically and for a longer period of time and the training and retraining of increasing numbers of adults. It means that education no longer can terminate at the 12th Grade or even during the employment life of the adult worker.

If we are to meet this education challenge, the cost in tax dollars will be extraordinary and will steadily increase. And yet we must meet it, if we are to provide the economy with an adequate supply of employable labor—young and old.

The criticalness of the employment situation can be established by the following data:

For example, in 1968, of the young men and women in the United States under 22 years of age, who terminated their education before high school graduation, over one million were unemployed. In today's economy more than thirty percent of high school dropouts are unemployed and even high school graduates average more than fifteen percent in unemployment.

The impact of unemployment is, as these figures indicate, especially harsh upon the under-educated or the vocationally untrained. As time passes, the situation will become more serious. The role of such citizens in our economy will be drastically reduced. Robert Theobold, expert on cybernetics and automation, emphasized this problem with a percent of the population, with the aid of automatic, computer-controlled machines, “will produce all the goods and services necessary to clothe, feed and run our society.” If you believe this a ridiculous idea, reflect upon the fact that today fewer than 200 men produce 90% of the electric lights manufactured in the United States.

Another set of statistics, however, reveals a different trend—a growing demand for the technically and professionally educated person. For example, it is estimated that, from 1965 to 1975, the demand for trained workers in professional and technical areas will increase by sixty-five percent; in managerial skills, thirty-two percent; in clerical activities, forty-five percent; and in service work, fifty-one percent.

These data indicate a rising demand for talent which will not be met unless the educational attainment of our citizenry is upgraded. When the regular schools fail to prepare for employment, or shifts in technology make obsolete and unnecessary, certain types of labor it is the responsibility of special occupational and adult schools to provide opportunities for the continued education, training and retraining of our citizens. This role is very vital if the labor supply is to adjust to labor demand. It means the creation of a quality labor supply.

I am saying, in effect, that education, while continuing to educate for citizenship, recreation and leisure, for personal satisfaction and for the professions must expand in breadth and depth in technical and vocational education.

Its major role in the future may very well be education in (1) English and reading skills, (2) vocational and technological skills, with emphasis on the latter, and, (3) preparation for effective employment in the personal services, an area of employment certain to expand with the growth of automation, as well as, of course, (4) collegiate professional education—the importance of which there is no doubt in the public mind.

What I have been saying poses a problem for a highly technical society which stated simply is: Does the population possess the native intelligence and neuro-muscular skills in sufficient quantity to meet the economy's need or demand for highly educated, technically trained individuals? This, of course, is not a problem with which I wish to deal tonight. My concern is with the crucial. necessity of utilizing as fully and as efficiently as possible the human intelligence and capabilities which we possess.

Great progress is being made by many local school districts and County Offices of Education in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, Alameda Counties and many others.

Under great handicaps, the school districts and County Offices are educating increasing numbers of youth and adults in meaningful vocational and technical skills. For example, nineteen percent of the high school graduates in the Sacramento City Unified School District are graduated from the evening adult high school. Certainly, this is a significant statistic, and I know that it is duplicated in other urban areas.

But a realistic evaluation of the total picture, however, is disquieting. It shows a hesitancy on the part of the public or of those in education to develop vocational and adult education on a scope necessary to meet the demands of the time. School facilities generally consist of day-school buildings given over to adult education at night, or old structures no longer adequate for day-time education; inadequate visual aids and equipment, and limited auxiliary educational services in guidance and library materials.

The development of a massive comprehensive type of adult and vocational and technical education, as I envision it, is not, in my opinion, imminent; it will inevitably come, since time and circumstances will mandate it. By this, I mean that the social and economic requirements of our rapidly changing society will inevitably demonstrate the need. However, the situation today actually is not encouraging; in fact, it is in some quite discouraging.

The theme of my remarks, however, is not the decline of vocational, technical and adult education, but rather its growing significance and the importance of a greater public appreciation and understanding of its role. With understanding will come public support and with public support will come the political pressure necessary to institute adequate programs.

I conclude by emphasizing that although high school vocational education and adult education are a significant aspect of the educational process, they now enjoy a stepchild status, but that the “contextual imperative”—or the demands of our dynamic-changing society—will bring these kinds of education the public understanding and support they need. When this occurs, those engaged in such educational programs will have the tools necessary to meet the challenge. The challenge is the continuing education of the citizenry—for more effective involvement in the community, more productive involvement in the economy, and more meaningful living and, therefore, greater personal fulfillment.

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