We are in a
periodespecially in this countryof rapid innovation
that is yielding dramatic changes in the way goods and services
are produced and in the ways that they are delivered to final users.
These innovations are markedly elevating the skill levels that will
be needed if our increasingly sophisticated capital stock is to
function effectively in the years ahead. Such considerations are
an important element in the ongoing dialogue that our nation's
leaders in business, labor, education, and public policy must have
if we, together, are to be successful in meeting the rising demand
for skilled workers. Success in this area will, in turn, allow us
to realize the potential that advances in science and technology
have made to enhance living standards for a large majority of Americans.
we face today are not unlike those of a century ago, when our education
system successfully responded to the multiplying needs brought about
by a marked acceleration in technological innovation. As those advances
put new demands on workers interacting with an increasingly more
complex stock of productive capital, high-school education proliferatedenabling
students to read manuals, manipulate numbers, and understand formulae.
thus accorded the skills necessary to staff the newly developing
assembly lines in factories and the rapidly expanding transportation
systems whose mechanical and automotive jobs required a widening
array of cognitive skills. For those who sought education beyond
high school, land-grant colleges sprang up, as states reacted to
the increased skills required by industry and especially agriculture.
standard, the required share of intellectual workers
in our labor force was then still small. But the technological innovations
of the latter part of the nineteenth century began to bring an increasing
conceptualization of our gross domestic productthat is, a
greater emphasis on value added stemming from new ideas and concepts
as distinct from material inputs and demanding physical labor. The
proportion of our workforce that created value through intellectual
endeavors, began a century-long climb.
If we are to
improve the scientific reasoning skills of young people today, we
need to encourage a deeper interaction with numbers and their manipulation
to a point at which students are confident and proud of their level
of skillsin many instances an outcome they may not have anticipated.
One is led to wonder whether the early sharpening of intellectual
rigor that occurs when young students struggle to negotiate the
complexities of doing multiplication and division the old-fashioned
way is not without enduring value. A superficial understanding that
does not stretch a child's intellectual capacity, in my experience,
cannot galvanize an enhanced reality-based sense of self-esteem.
In this regard,
it is discouraging that so many students who clearly demonstrate
impressive verbal or other conceptual skills find mathematical procedures
intimidating. According to a recent survey of student attitudes
toward math conducted by the Department of Education, fewer than
half of the high-school seniors surveyed said that they like mathematics,
a proportion similar to the proportion who felt that they were good
at it. Even more disturbing, these proportions were lower than those
in the surveys conducted in 1990.
indicates that such math anxiety has a negative effect
on mathematics performance and that strategies for increasing students'
confidence in their mathematical abilities are likely to have additional
benefits in terms of achievement. If we can enhance their self-esteem
and provide them with a strong curriculum and effective teaching,
students may well find themselves rising to a level of analytic
capability beyond their previous vision.
this issue is crucial for the future of our nation. It is obviously
just a matter of time before the bulk of our workforce will require
a much higher level of problem-solving skills than is currently
evident. And while we have been fortunate to attract so many skilled
young people to our shores, we must nonetheless strive to increase
math and science achievement so that our students can take advantage
of the considerable opportunities that will exist in tomorrow's
As a final
point, I would stress that, even with the increasing intellectual
specialization so necessary if we are to move to an ever higher
degree of specialization in our overall economy, we also need to
ensure that all students have a broad knowledge of the world at
large. Major technological advances are becoming increasingly interdisciplinary.
Many academics argue, I believe rightly, that significant exposure
to a liberal educationmusic, literature, and the artsbroadens
intellectual awareness, enhancing the ability to reach across disciplines
to forge new ideas. Thus, while we must strengthen math and science
education to address the requirements of the newer technologies
we see on the horizon, we should not lose sight of the advantages
of a liberal education.
I do not doubt
that many of our most innovative and successful dot-com entrepreneurs
are exceptionally, but narrowly, technically focused and educated.
But if technology is to fit into a broader society of complex democratic
institutions such as ours, it is important that all participants
have an adequate awareness of society, its structure and values.
For it is the latter that we as a people endeavor to achieve. Our
technologies are only a means to that end.
by Prism from testimony given by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan
before the Committee on Education and the Workforce, U.S. House
of Representatives, September 21, 2000.