If creativity and innovation will be the hallmarks of the most successful communities in the 21st century we need to know the answers to the fundamental questions of what makes us creative, innovative, imaginative.
To create Innovative products and services as President Obama, as has argued rightly, we need as a Nation to organize our community to reinvent itself for the new, knowledge economy and society; prepare our citizens to take ownership of their community; and, most importantly, educate the next generation of leaders and workers to meet these global challenges.
In this effort the arts are not a frill.
Indeed , they may be the most important aspect of a 21st century education. Our schools need to focus on reinventing and renewing our citizens and our country to compete in the new global economy.
Globalization 3.0 is here.
Outsourcing jobs, and off-shoring whole divisions of companies are commonplace. We are currently suffering what economists are euphemistically calling a "jobless recovery", and our communities; and our schools are facing challenges not well understood by politicians, policy makers or parents.
Twenty years ago it was fashionable to blame foreign competition and cheap labor markets abroad for the loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States, but the pain of the loss was softened by the emergence of a new services industry. Now, it is the service sector jobs that are being lost. This shift of high tech service jobs will be a permanent feature of economic life in the 21st century
To make matters worse, we are nowhere ready to capture the high ground in the new competitive environment, given the poor performance of our systems of education today.
Former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch reporting on the results of the latest PISA tests -- Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) -- observed , "Our students scored in the middle of the pack! We are not No. 1! Shanghai is No. 1! We are doomed unless we overtake Shanghai!"
She argued further: "The lesson of PISA is this: Neither of the world's highest-performing nations do what our "reformers" want to do. How long will it take before our political leaders begin to listen to educators? How long will it take before they realize that their strategies have not worked anywhere? How long will it be before they stop inflicting their bad ideas on our schools, our students, our teachers, and American education?"
The New York Times also writing about the PISA tests interviewed US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan who said: "We have to see this as a wake-up call...I know skeptics will want to argue with the results, but we consider them to be accurate and reliable, and we have to see them as a challenge to get better," he added. "The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we're being out-educated".
The changes most policymakers and economists are talking about centers around creativity and innovation, because knowledge, broadly defined , is our salvation. We need to lead the world in new inventions and new innovative products and services.
Maybe the PISA tests do not matter. Maybe we are looking at the wrong things to measure success.
As Dana Gioia, former Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts once said "America is not going to succeed through cheap labor or cheap raw materials, nor even the free flow of capital or a streamlined industrial base...to compete successfully, this country needs creativity, ingenuity, and innovation".
And he could have added, we need to stop measuring ourselves by old standards.
The hearse is at the back door of America, as we have known it.
Either we make the changes to succeed in the wake of globalization, or the world's greatest experiment in democracy fails.