Condoleezza Rice Discusses “American National Myth”By Jill Anderson
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice knows that if the United States is to continue being a leader in the world, so much depends on the quality of an American education.
“Our competitiveness as a country is clearly at risk,” Rice told a packed audience in Askwith Hall on December 2.
During the lecture, “Why Democracy Matters: Education, Empowerment and the American National Myth at Home and Abroad,” cosponsored by the Askwith Forum and the W.E.B. DuBois Institute, Rice reflected on what she called the great American myth that if one works hard, one can achieve anything, even if coming from humble beginnings. This belief, she claimed, is what truly “unites” all Americans.
Rice is worried about how America will continue if it loses the belief in education that unites the people of this country. “The creation of educational system in which people can get skills that they needs is very important,” she said. If these skills are not realized, she continued, and people begin to lose faith, then “the economic climate will grow smaller, not larger.”
Rice shared personal stories that showed how much her own family was committed to the notion that education can be transformative. She was raised in a middle-class African American community in the South by educators committed to sending her to college. On family vacations, she said, they “visited colleges like people who visit National Parks.”
Today, Rice said, her main concern is that all children have access to a quality education like she had growing up. “I’m concerned when you can look at a zip code and can tell whether you will get a good education,” she said. “I will tell you this is terrifying.”
Dean Kathleen McCartney opened the question-and-answer portion of the lecture by asking Rice why she thought only 52 percent of children in the 50 largest cities in the United States had graduated high school.
Rice responded that there are many problems compounding this issue ranging from the fact that America hasn’t responded to globalization fast enough to the breakdown in family structure. She also noted that encouraging self esteem has replaced demanding excellence of students in America’s schools. As an example, Rice shared a story about helping her cousin’s daughter solve a multiplication problem. After reading the girl’s answer, Rice told her it was wrong. The girl responded, “There are no wrong answers.”
Reflecting on the state of America’s children today, Rice pointed out that self esteem should be a byproduct of actually accomplishing something. “We should be as demanding of the students as we are of the teachers,” she said. “I sometimes think that standards have simply slipped.”