Tuesday, September 22, 2020

John Dewey and the Future of Democracy

 The coming election, amid the awful combination of a resurgent pandemic, a troubled democracy, and rapidly evolving social issues, have me turning to John Dewey for a refresher course on what democracy really means and what we need to do to save ours.  Dewey is perhaps best-known today for his advocacy of the instrumentalist philosophy as it applies to education.  However, in the 1920s and 1930s, he published several books that dealt with the nature of democracy and the role of individuals and groups in a democratic society.

There is a continuing tension in American life between the ideal of the individual free from social restrictions, on one hand, and the idea that individuals carry a responsibility to the community, on the other.  The ongoing resentment about having to wear safety masks in the midst of the pandemic is one very good example.  Not wanting to pay taxes to support the health care of other people is another.  In The Public and its Problems (1927), Dewey attempted to better define the distinctions between the “individual” and the “public” in a democracy.  We celebrate our individuality, but, in the end, our lives as individuals cannot be totally separated from our lives as members of a community.  As Dewey says, “There is no sense in asking how individuals come to be associated.  They exist and operate in association” (p. 23).  He notes that “The state. . . has no concern of its own; its purpose is formal, like that of the leader of the orchestra who plays no instrument and makes no music, but who serves to keep other players who do produce music in unison with one another” (p. 4).  

What about the public, then?  The public, says Dewey, 

“. . . arrives at decisions, makes terms and executes resolves only through the medium of individuals.  They are officers; they represent a Public, but the Public acts only through them.  We say in a country like our own that legislators and executives are elected by the public.  The phrase might appear to indicate that the Public acts.  But, after all, individual men and women exercise the franchise; the Public here is a collective name for a multitude of persons each voting as an anonymous unit.  As a citizen-voter, each one of these persons is, however, an officer of the public.  He expresses his will as a representative of the public interest as much so as does a senator or sheriff” (p. 75).


In 1939, as several European countries were turning their backs on democracy and in favor of totalitarian regimes, Dewey wrote a short book called Freedom and Culture.  He noted that, “A totalitarian regime is committed to control of the whole life of all of its subjects by its hold over feelings, desires, emotions, as well as opinions. . . Thus it is that the very things that seem to us in democratic countries the most obnoxious features of the totalitarian state are the very things for which its advocates recommend it.  They are the things for whose absence they denounce democratic countries” (p.16).   He noted that, while some see this as the result of a “collective hallucination,” it is essential that citizens recognize this in order to escape the “collective delusion—that totalitarianism rests upon external coercion alone” (p. 17).

            In Dewey’s vision, this represents the “moral factor” in social organization.  While total allegiance is the bind that holds people together in a totalitarian society, Dewey notes that all societies have a moral factor; “. . . for a number of persons to form anything that can be called a community in its pregnant sense there must be values prized in common” (p. 17).

Dewey quotes Thomas Jefferson as saying, “Nothing is unchangeable but inherent and inalienable rights of man” (Freedom and Culture, p. 119) and goes on to discuss three points that flow from that statement:  

·      First, he emphasizes that, to Jefferson, “. . . it was the ends of democracy, the rights of man –not of men in the plural—which are unchangeable” (p. 120).

·      Second, Dewey believed that the essence of Jefferson’s statement lies in the issue of states rights versus federal power,  “. . . for while he stood for state action as a barrier against excessive power at Washington, and while on the practical side his concern with it was most direct, in his theoretical writings chief importance is attached to local self-governing units on something like the New England town-meeting plan” (p. 121).  “There is,” Dewey wrote, “a difference between a society, in the sense of an association, and a community. . . Natural associations are conditions for the existence of a community, but a community leads the function of communication in which emotions and ideas are shared as well as joint undertakings engaged in” (p. 122).  In a modern industrial society, “economic forces have immensely widened the scope of associational activities.  But it has done so largely at the expense of the intimacy and directness of communal troupe interests and activities. . . The power of the rabble rouser, especially in the totalitarian direction, is mainly due to his power to create a factitious sense of direct union and communal solidarity—if only by arousing the emotion of common intolerance and hate” (p. 122).  This breakdown of the community into radically opposed factions signals a move toward totalitarianism.

·      Finally, Dewey noted, Jefferson held that property rights are created by the “social pact” rather than through inherent moral claims by individuals that government is morally obligated to maintain.  “The right to pursue happiness stood with Jefferson for nothing less than the claim of every human being to choose his own career and to act upon his own choice and judgment free from restraints and constraints imposed by the arbitrary will of other human beings—whether these others are officials of government, of whom Jefferson was especially afraid, or are persons whose command of capital and control of the opportunities for engagement in useful work limits the ability of others to ‘pursue happiness’”  (p. 123).

            Today, we are experiencing our own form of collective hallucination as the Trump administration uses lies and misrepresentations to create the misperception that his regime will protect the white working class while it works to make the rich richer.  Gone is any semblance that the federal government is concerned with the “rights of man” or the “public” as it was envisioned in the Constitution.

            Dewey’s concerns about totalitarianism in the 1930s are good lessons as we watch the 2020 election unfold amid the social and economic disruption that is being caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and by the daily abuses of the Trump administration.  As Dewey concluded in Freedom and Culture:

If there is one conclusion to which human experience unmistakably points it is that democratic ends demand democratic methods for their realization . . .  An American democracy can serve the world only as it demonstrates in the conduct of its own life the efficacy of plural, partial, and experimental methods in securing and maintaining an ever-increasing release of the powers of human nature, in service of a freedom which is operative and a cooperation which is voluntary (p. 133).




Dewey, John. (1927, 1957).  The Public and Its Problems. Athens: Ohio University Press..


Dewey, John.  (1989).  Freedom and Culture.  Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Press.


Friday, September 4, 2020

After the Pandemic: Defining the New Normal

We hear a lot these days about “returning to normal” and even “the new normal.”  My sense is that the Covid-19 pandemic will ultimately be seen more as a punctuation mark than as a temporary aberration.  We will not return to the past, but will need to create a new future.  
One reason is that the pandemic is forcing us to accelerate our adoption of communications technologies.  We see it not just in the technology itself, but how we are using technology to accommodate the new social restrictions.  Increasing number of adults in all sorts of jobs are working from home, for instance, conducting meetings via computer conferencing systems like Zoom, sharing documents via email, etc.  We can expect that organizations will see a value in this beyond the need for social distancing and encourage some staff to work from home more often after the pandemic itself subsides.  This, in turn, will encourage the creation of work teams that go well beyond the local physical community, encouraging companies to hire staff who will continue to live at a distance from the workplace and, in the process, further encouraging the globalization of both the culture and the economy.  
We also see the beginnings of a vision of education as schools re-convene this fall and mix in-class with “remote” learning.  Many schools are offering three options: full in-classroom, a hybrid in which students study online four days a week and meet together once, and fully online instruction.  As institutions, their community constituencies, and students—become comfortable with these new options, it will generate a generation of students for whom remote working is a comfortable environment.  When they graduate, those students will be more comfortable in professions that allow them to work from home.
These two factors have put pressure on our current infrastructure, as witnessed by Zoom’s national “crash” as some K-12 schools and higher education institutions reconvened this week.  The pressure is on to create a stronger infrastructure for synchronous remote communications—what we used to call teleconferencing.  The new expectation will be that students must have universal access to classes and that professionals must have universal access to their work environment.  It is also easy to imagine the pressure on online publishing and international sharing of open educational resources (OERs) in this new educational “normal.”
At the same time, technology is eliminating geography and ethnicity as a way to define the limits of community.  The new normal of working at a distance will create new kinds of professional communities that are not defined by location but by the work itself and the broad societal impact of that work.  All of these factors will need to be addressed as we work to establish a new normal.   
The pandemic is occurring during—and perhaps accelerating—an important generational change, as Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) move toward retirement, giving GenXers and Millennials room to grow into their careers.  The oldest Boomers are now 74; the youngest are 56.  They currently account for only 21.9% of the total workforce, and the vast majority will retire within the decade. Meanwhile, the Pew Foundation reports that GenXers (born between 1965 and 1980) and Millennials (1981 – 1996) each account for a third or more of the American workforce.   Most members of this new workforce majority grew up during the technological revolution.  For them, email, the web, Zoom, twitter, etc., have been the norm most of their lives.  They will be quick to adapt to a new education and work environment embedded in the new technologies and to foster other social innovations in this new environment.  
In short, the new normal will be one marked by continuing change.  The immediate challenge will be to remind ourselves of the foundational principles on which the new normal must be based and to articulate them for this new environment.  As we move through the pandemic, it would be good to keep an eye out for innovations that could—or should—be part of the new normal, whenever that may come.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Learning from the Pandemic

This past spring, communities across the United States took steps to try to contain the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a time of sometimes desperate innovation, as States closed businesses and schools and even churches to try to keep residents safe from infection. Many experts are now predicting that the coming months will see another rise in infections. Indeed, that is already the case in some parts of the country.
With that in mind, perhaps this summer is a particularly good time to begin to identify things that seemed to work, things that were good ideas but need some work, and things that we need to start thinking about so that we are better prepared when the next spike comes along. What did we do at the community, State, and national levels to respond to the pandemic? What lessons have we learned?  What innovations have been successful? What ideas need to be tested?  What do we need to avoid?
Here is one thought to get us started: As the pandemic closed businesses around the nation, one big concern was the huge increase in unemployment, especially among workers who may not have much savings. The federal government responded by giving each affected head of household a check for $1,200.  I suggest a somewhat different approach next time.  Instead of sending money directly to workers, give the money to employers so that they can keep employees on their payroll and, in the process, keep their health care and other benefits in place.  If businesses are not able to open for a while, employees will still have their jobs and receive some compensation and not need to start totally from scratch when the economy re-opens.
Similarly, we need to review how retail businesses adapted to continue to serve walk-in customers during this period. What practices should be mainstreamed? What physical changes to the retail environment can be adjusted to make a “new normal” work well for both customer and provider?
We’ve also seen widespread innovation in the use of online technology to keep both our K-12 schools and colleges/universities operating during the pandemic. Now, as pressures to re-open mount, is a good time to evaluate those experiences. What works best? What changes are needed to institutionalize new elements of the learning environment for the long term?  
What changes do we need to make in our health care system to ensure that we can more quickly and effectively respond to future pandemics? We are still in the midst of this crisis, but we should look at what has been done thus far, what worked and what didn’t, and prepare a new environment. Certainly, one issue is how we get medical supplies to the front line in a rapidly developing pandemic. What should be the role of the states? What should be the role of the federal government?  
There is much to be done. While the pandemic continues, we need to find some time and resources to review and to prepare for the next round and for the new normal that must follow.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Finding Community

Watching the Facebook postings these last weeks has been a struggle.  We seem to be living in a time when there are only extremes of thought.  One side, it seems, can win only if the other is utterly defeated.  Gone is the middle ground, whether it be the town square or the chambers of government where problems can be solved by people working together, finding compromise and, occasionally, even discovering new solutions that neither side can claim as their own. 
The other day, the continuing bad news surrounding Donald Trump prompted me to write on Facebook: “It is amazing how we have lost our sense of shared community over the past few years.”  Indeed, I have to wonder whether we even know how to define “community” in this new world—this global information society.
For many years now, I have looked to Wendell Berry on this issue.  Berry is a poet, novelist, and essayist who celebrates the rural, agricultural way of life that can still be found in rural Kentucky where he makes his home—a place that is not unlike rural central Pennsylvania, where I live in the cocoon of a college town surrounded by small communities.  Berry 
has made the question of localism a focus of his work for many years; in Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community, he described the idea of community this way: “…community is a locally understood interdependence of local people, local culture, local economy, and local nature” (Berry, 1992, 1993, p. 120).  In It All Turns on Affection: The Jefferson Lectures and Other Essays, he delved more deeply into the role of community in the lives of individuals:
For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it.  To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it.  By imagination we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it.  By imagination we recognize with sympathy the fellow members, human and nonhuman, with whom we share our place.  By that local experience we see the need to grant a sort of pre-emptive sympathy to all the fellow members, the neighbors, with whom we share the world.  As imagination enables sympathy, sympathy enables affection.  And in affection we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind, and conserving economy (Berry, 2012 p. 14).

            Technology has tended to make less urgent the idea of localism as a defining element of “community.”  In the old days, being part of a community meant that, in one way or another, you and other members were reliant on each other.  You may shop at my store, but your daughter teaches my grandson at school.  We are not strangers on the street.  We have interconnections at many levels that make us part of each others’ lives and prompts the “pre-emptive sympathy” that Berry writes about.  
            That said, the ideal of “community” also depended in the past on the ideal of “locality.”  Today, however, we also have other kinds of community in this technological age.  Today’s professional communities may be distributed nationally or internationally.  Like local communities, they may be very important to our careers and to our sense of personal identity.  They may offer many opportunities for “pre-emptive sympathy,” but they may lack the multiple layers of inter-connection that we find in local communities.  It is all complicated.
            The complexity of “community” in our times makes it difficult to tease out a shared sense of sympathy, affection, and caring based on our awareness of connectedness and shared responsibility for a “neighborly, kind, and conserving economy,” as Berry describes it.  The result is that we are left alone with our beliefs, which, left unexplored, tend then to transform into prejudices.
            The challenge for all of us is to seek out opportunities to share experiences, our talents, our philosophies of life in ways that bring us together.  Yes, we all can look at each other and find those things that set us apart from one another.  The real challenge, though, is to find those things that can help us see how we are connected.  Finding common ground, where we can come together and build a better community, is the real challenge of politics in a democracy.

Berry, Wendell (1992, 1993).  Sex, economy, freedom & community.  New York and San Francisco: Pantheon Books.

Berry, Wendell (2012).  It all turns on affection: the Jefferson lecture and other essays. Berkeley: Counterpoint.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Improving Local Law Enforcement: Lessons from Education

Let me say from the outset that I am not against the police. My late brother served on a city police force most of his working life, as have his son and grandson.  My concern is simply to ensure that our law enforcement services in communities across the country are able to do what the public expects of them and that the public understand how quality is defined and ensured.
            That said, the recent killing of George Floyd, the spate of killings that preceded it, and new killings since then have made it clear that there is a problem to be solved.  Let’s not demonize all police officers because of the actions of a few.  Instead, let’s make sure that US. communities, big and small, across the nation can be confident that their local law enforcement agencies—and the professionals who work in them—develop and refine the professional skills and organizational practices that are needed in a rapidly changing social and technological environment.  
            There are many very specific issues of public policy, organizational policy, and individual professionalism that need to be articulated to ensure that law enforcement agencies and individual police officers meet the professional standards for the field.  However, I’d like to address some organizational approaches that might facilitate how the law enforcement community establishes  standards for the field.  
I spent most of my career in education. My sense is that the way school districts and colleges/universities have organized to develop standards of professional practice in education offer some examples of how law enforcement agencies and governments might organize professional standards in that field.  Here are some thoughts on how models that education institutions have created could be applied to strengthen public confidence in local law enforcement.
Law Enforcement Agency Accreditation
Around the United States, colleges and universities have created regional associations through which they ensure quality at the institutional level.  Pennsylvania, for instance, is a member of the Middlestates Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), created in 1919 and recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation as the body that accredits more than 525 higher education institutions in five U.S. States, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.  It describes itself as:
a voluntary, non-governmental, membership association that defines, maintains, and promotes educational excellence across institutions with diverse missions, student populations, and resources. It examines each institution as a whole, rather than specific programs within institutions.

As a membership organization, MSCHE brings institutions together to set standards and then to review each other to ensure that all members are meeting those standards.  Standards are in the following areas:  
Design and Delivery of the Student Learning Experience
Support of the Student Experience
Educational Effectiveness Assessment
Planning, Resources, and Institutional Improvement
Governance, Leadership, and Administration

Each member institutions agrees on a periodic peer evaluation of the institution’s achievements in each of these areas.  This includes data collected annually and a peer review every five years.  There are counterpart accrediting commissions in other parts of the U.S., all of which are recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
This model could be adapted by law enforcement agencies across the country, allowing for coordination of local agencies at the state level and, through regional accrediting commissions, at regional and national levels.  The result would be a new professional community that can work to ensure that law enforcement agencies address both local needs and national policy concerns.    
State Licensure/Credentialing
Pennsylvania has 500 individual school districts that range in size from 200 students to 140,000 students.  All teachers in these districts must be certified by the State Department of Education before they can be hired to teach in local schools.  Similar certification requirements can be found in other states.  The statewide professional certification model could be easily applied to law enforcement as an enhancement of current training and certification practices for police officers.  It would help guarantee that all officers have received training in how to operate in communities that are diverse not only racially, but religiously, culturally, and by how individuals earn a living.  It also would provide a standard for evaluating professional performance of law enforcement officers and the agencies in which they work.
Continuing Professional Education
Continuing professional development should be a requirement for all law enforcement professionals.  Standards for professional development could evolve through the work of the regional accrediting commissions, with input from state credentialing agencies.  Professional development can take many forms—conferences, webinars, credit and noncredit courses, etc.  All forms could contribute to micro-credentials that could then be aggregated into college credits, leading to senior officers having a degree or equivalent professional certification.  Achievement of a micro-credential could be a threshold for special assignments and related salary increases and future promotions.
Bringing State associations together to review state standards and agree on regional standards would be an important step toward raising the professional stature of policing in the U.S. Turning these standards into a licensing/certification system for officers is a natural product of the national conversation that would result. 

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Public Higher Education in 2030

In these challenging times, it is sometimes helpful to think about how today’s innovations--and today’s struggles—will change the world we live in.  Recently, a friend—himself an international leader in open and online education—challenged me to think about how all the innovations in technology and the struggle for institutions and individuals to keep pace with the accelerating pace change will impact our colleges and universities in the years ahead.  “What,” he asked, “will public universities look like in 2030?”  
            It is near impossible to paint a detailed picture of the future.  However, his question got me thinking about current innovations that might have an ongoing impact on our institutions and on how we think about higher and continuing education as both individual and institutional actions.  Here are some thoughts about specific innovations that might help shape the higher education environment that my grandsons may experience.  I am sure there are many more potential change agents out there, but I hope these will help start a discussion. 
The K-14 Movement  In 2020, a few states—led by New York—made the first two years of college tuition-free in public colleges and universities for resident high school graduates.  By 2030, we can expect that this K-14 movement will become a standard feature of public higher education—that most young people will be expected to complete the first two years of college, just as their parents were expected to complete high school.  This could greatly increase enrollment demand in general education courses and could also increase the demand for associate degrees in many disciplines.  A universal K-14 environment—which would include both general education and some professional studies at the associate level—would also change how colleges think about the role of general education and its relationship to both the high school curriculum and the upper division professional studies.
Micro-Credentials  In Thank You for Being Late, Tom Friedman wrote that, while a baccalaureate degree used to prepare one for a career, today it just prepares students for their first job. This is because of the continuing acceleration of both technological and social change—what Christopher Beha, editor of Harper’s magazine, called “the Age of Acceleration.” One way that colleges and universities can respond is to create an ongoing relationship with graduates and employers, offering continuing education in the form of micro-credentials that allow new professionals to stay in touch with changes in their fields. The demand for micro-credentials will vary, depending on the professional discipline, involved.  In some cases, they may begin after the associate degree—the end of the K-14 phase of education.  In other cases, they may allow an institution to continue the education of alums who enter a profession after their baccalaureate degree or even after a graduate degree.  Ideally, credits earned in a micro-credential could be applied to the next highest degree, giving new meaning to the ideal of “lifelong learning.”
Collaboration  We have begun to see institutions collaborating to deliver graduate degrees and specialized courses so that all their students have access to the best possible education, regardless of their geographic location.  One example is the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (IDEA), which allows state universities in the U.S. to ensure that their students have access to the best possible academic resources in specialized undergraduate and graduate degrees, and CourseShare, through which institutions in the Big-Ten Academic Alliance can share access to specialized language and area studies courses housed at other campuses. This idea should continue to expand to include new professional areas and also to include international collaborations.
            These elements have existed in higher education for many years.  Over the past decade, on-line technology has greatly increased the use of these nontraditional approaches. More recently, the Covid-19 pandemic and other events have accelerated the acceptance of online and remote teaching within the mainstream.  
            The questions for us in 2020, as we look ahead to 2030, are simple (more simple than the answers, I suspect): (1) what elements of today’s state-of-the art technology and pedagogical innovations will have lasting effect and should, as a result, be moved more quickly into the mainstream? And (2) how should the continuing and eLearning functions, which have thrived on the fringes of some institution for more than a decade now, be mainstreamed so that faculty and the institution, generally, can use them to respond to the changing needs for higher education?
            I hope this encourage discussion of topics that should be addressed to help our institutions and governing bodies better prepare for 2030.              

Saturday, May 16, 2020

To the Class of 2020

College graduations are always times of mixed emotions.  On one hand, there is the exultation of having completed a life goal.  On the other hand, graduation often means bidding farewell to friends who you may not see again, leaving behind a life filled with great memories, and, ultimately, facing the unknown on one’s own.  

This year marks the 50th anniversary of my own college graduation.  1970 was a year of tumult and early closures, as students protested the country’s war in Vietnam after National Guardsmen killed four and wounded nine protesting students at Kent State University.  At Penn State, the spring term ended early. We were all glad when graduation day came. 

This year, it was a very different kind of disruption. Graduation came in the midst of a global pandemic that has hit the United States harder than most other countries, cancelling face-to-face instruction and closing campuses across the nation.  Most U.S. colleges and universities cancelled the formal 2020 graduation ceremonies in favor of “virtual” commencements over Zoom or another streaming video service.  Penn State was no exception. Town has been unusually empty and quiet as a result.  However, this past week, we’ve noticed small groups of students, decked out in their graduation robes, posing for photos at the Nittany Lion Shrine, Old Main, the Penn State Arboretum, and other landmarks—finding a way to memoralize their college achievement and create new memories to share in the years to come in the midst of social distancing.  

In 2005, I had the honor of giving a graduation speech at Penn State-Shenango, where I began my college career in 1966.  The campus was celebrating its 40th anniversary, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak with the graduating students.  I wanted to share my remarks from that day below as a way of wishing our 2020 grads all the best as they begin their careers in these very turbulent times.

Penn State Shenango Commencement Speech, May 2005
Thank you, Dr. Leeds.

First, let me say congratulations to the graduates who are here with us today.  I also want to recognize our graduates’ families, friends, and loved ones.  No one achieves a goal like this entirely on her own--you all deserve a share of the congratulations tonight.   

I also want to thank Dean Disney and Dr. Leeds for inviting me to be here.   I am especially proud to join you tonight for several reasons.  First, as a Penn State administrator.  Second, as a Penn State Shenango Alum.  Third, as a Shenango Valley native.   And fourth, this year Penn State Shenango is celebrating its 40th anniversary of service to the community here in Western Pennsylvania.   I am a member of the second class to go through the campus.  I graduated from Hickory High School in 1966.  I am a classic Penn State first-generation student.  When I was in high school, I had few prospects of ever attending college.  However, some of my teachers told my mother and me about this new campus that would allow me to attend Penn State without having to bear the expense of leaving home and that would allow me to continue to work part-time while I studied.   The campus was not yet at its current physical location—our classes were held at Kennedy Christian High School during my freshman year—but the very fact that Penn State was here in the Valley was a godsend to me back then and it has been the same for many other students as the campus has grown and become a part of downtown Sharon over the past four decades.   So, it is a distinct honor for me to be back with you this evening.

Back in those days, you could only complete the first two years of a baccalaureate degree at the campus.  I finished my undergraduate degree at University Park in 1970.    The following month, this book came out—Future Shock by Alvin Toffler.   It was, as the cover on the paperback edition said, “a runaway best seller.”  But more than that, it was a kind of social exclamation point that announced that something very big was happening in our world—it proclaimed the beginning of the Information Revolution.  It described the many changes that were beginning to take shape in our culture .  Especially explored a variety of changes—changes in science and technology, in organizations, in families, in education, in relationships—and the challenges facing us as individuals and as a society learned how to cope with increasingly rapid and radical change.   Most of us were only vaguely aware of all this in 1970, but it was not long before we all began to feel the impact and began to sense that things would never be quite the same.  
Well, we are now more than a full generation into the Information Revolution.  Most of you who are graduating today know no other world than a wired—and increasingly, wireless—world.  Most of the rest of us have trouble remembering what it was like in the “old days.”  (Notice that I did NOT say the “good old days”).   And yet we are still discovering the true dimensions of change that the Information Revolution has created—and is still creating.  We are, in a very real way, in the same situation that Penn State’s graduates of a century or more ago might have been:  they were a generation into the Industrial Revolution and I am sure most of them could not have envisioned what the 20th century would bring.  We look out today on the edge of the 21st century and only one thing is certain:  there is a lot more change to come.   Some of them will be what one author calls “predictable surprises.”  But some will be total surprises.   It’s going to be an exciting ride.  And it’s time for you to take your turn at the wheel.

One that is still unfolding but that has incredible potential for transforming how we will live in the world in the coming decades—is how the Internet and wireless communications are transforming the concept of “community” in our lives.  We all live in several different overlapping communities.  Our family and friends are a community that we take with us throughout our lives.  We also have our local, physical community—like the Shenango Valley itself—where we have many different kinds of associations and, often, where our cultural heritage rests.  And, as we move on in life, we develop communities that share professional interests and communities of interest around other dimensions of our lives.
Today, those communities are no longer as tied to local geography as they used to be.  A generation after Future Shock, we know from experience what Alvin Toffler was telling us:  that the Information Revolution was not about technology, but was about US.  I work with Penn State’s online courses.  My professional community is national and international.  Just in the last two weeks, I have interacted with colleagues in the United Kingdom, Brazil, Mexico, and Norway—all without leaving State College (a town that my graduation speaker in 1970 described as “equally inaccessible from anywhere in the world”).  Students in our online courses come from all 50 states and all 7 continents.  Their experience of a learning community is a bit different from mine 40 years ago.   
For me, at my age, all this is an adventure.  For you, well, it may be pretty normal.  But this idea of technology is changing how you will define your community in the years ahead is well worth thinking about.  All of you have the ability now to carry your communities with you wherever your life’s work will take you.  For some of you—and I hope this is true of a good many—it will allow you to stay right here in Western Pennsylvania and still be citizens of a rich community of colleagues and friends far from here.  Pennsylvania is facing a powerful challenge.  Many of our communities—and the Shenango Valley is a wonderful example—were shaped by the needs of the Industrial Revolution.  The challenge—and it is an immediate challenge for all of us—is to re-envision our communities for this new economy.  We’ll need your leadership here at home or wherever your careers take you, to make that happen.
Tonight, you have received your degrees from Penn State.  But I think it is important to note that you did not “receive” your education.  It hasn’t been handed down to you.  Instead, you MADE your education.  You had lots of help from faculty members and other students, but it is YOURS.   In the process, you’ve created a new capacity within yourself to face the changes ahead.  One thing we DO know about the world that the information revolution has created is that, for us—because the world continues to change rapidly—education doesn’t end tonight.  It is a lifelong process.  I wound up getting two more degrees from Penn State as an adult learner.  I hope that, as you move forward you will continue to turn to Penn State for renewal and to help you to reach new goals as you move ahead in your life.

For tonight, though--from one alum to another—congratulations and the very best wishes for the future.

Thank you.