Education Quality, Feature, High school / Secondary 2, International, Opinion, Private education, Public education, Required, Students, University & College - Written by on Monday, October 31, 2011 6:24 - 0 Comments

Niall Ferguson On Civilization & Education East/West, Then/Now

 

Niall Ferguson speaking at Gresham College in 2009. Photo by Gresham College via Flickr under CreativeCommons

By Paul Glader

BERLIN – In his new book Civilization, Niall Ferguson argues why he thinks the West rebounded in the last 500 years, from vulnerability to domination over other civilizations.

“On a world tour (in 1411 AD), you would have concluded that the future belongs to China,” he said, during a recent talk in Berlin. “Great cities of Europe were small and sadly compared to Asia.” Nanking, for example, boasted 500,000 people at the time London had 50,000 and was less impressive organizationally.

While great cities in China and the Ottoman Empire were flourishing, they missed some key elements that vaulted a backwater Western Europe, ravaged with war and disease, back into the lead over superior empires.

He points to six “Killer Apps” that the West had and the “rest” did not: competition, science, democracy, medicine, consumerism, and the work ethic. In a talk titled, Civilization: The West and the Rest he discusses whether the West has maintained a monopoly on these items.

“It turns out they really are like apps. You can download them. It’s like going to the app store,” he said, at a recent speech in Berlin. History has shown that societies that downloaded these principles succeeded and those that resisted them ended up receding in standards of living, average life spans, economic growth and other categories.

His analysis should prove useful and thought-provoking to the online learning community. Dr. Ferguson, a history professor at Harvard University, delivered the Stephen M. Kellen Lecture Friday at the ESMT European School of Management and Technology, which was co-sponsored by The Academy Academy in Berlin, where he is a trustee.

When asked about education, he argues there is a strong predisposition to favor monopoly in education. He says that is the reason public schools are not doing so well while the U.S. university system is a world leader. “They have competition,” he points out.

A questioner pointed out that Finland and Korea are known for having monopolistic public school systems that are very successful. Ferguson said he meant that public school unions often hinder innovation in the U.S. system.

He turns the lens back on the West, saying he doesn’t see it leading scientific life, in property rights and in other key areas. He suggests that, if it wants to remain successful, the West must re-install the apps it championed and to delete the viruses “that are causing our operating system to run so slowly. Reboot our society. The choice is between a reboot and a systems crash.”

The U.S., he points out, is going through dramatic changes demographically and will be more Latin American by 2050, perhaps with non-Hispanic whites as a minority. But he says a great asset, the killer app, for the United States is its openness. “Openness has a moral force,” he says. “Something Chinese society will not be able to manage.”

Educational institutions, he points out, play a great role in developing an open or tolerant society. “China had a great university system,” he said. “But they did not promote openness.”

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Question for Thought:

How does educational technology, ranging from open source apps like Khan Academy to online courses at For-Profit or Non-Profit colleges fit in to civilization prosperity in the future?

Niall Ferguson TedTalk: The 6 Killer Apps of Prosperity

 



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