Colin Campbell, president of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation gave a welcoming address to the hundreds of stakeholders, leaders in academia, business, government and the NGO sector who gathered last weekend at the Williamsburg Lodge Conference Center.
"It is an honor to join you for this Reves Center anniversary year conference on Internalization of U. S. Education," he said.
The three-day conference was organized by the Coalition for International Education and the College of William & Mary. It has generous financial support from the Carnegie Corp., the Henry Luce Foundation and several other educational organizations. The conference aimed "to make a comprehensive assessment of education's role in meeting the nation's global competence needs."
Frank Shatz interviewing former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman
Indicative of the prestige the conference commanded was the lineup of keynote speakers. Among them were former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, and former U.S. Rep. from Wisconsin, David Obey, one of the longest-serving leaders of the House Appropriations Committee and a strong supporter of international education, foreign-language learning and educational exchanges.
In his address, Obey reminded the audience that it was the Sputnik satellite, launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, that awakened America to the need to make the necessary investment in science education. Now it is time, he said, to make the same kind of investment in funding international education initiatives, promote foreign-language learning and strengthen those programs that enable thousands of students to study critical languages and engage with cultures around the world.
In his capacity as chairman of the Appropriations Committee and several subcommittees, Obey used his considerable influence to strengthen America's leadership in the world by expanding access to education for all students.
Introducing Gov. Huntsman, Campbell said, "It would take a mighty struggle to find a better example of citizenship writ large - fulfilling ideals of participation, wisdom and commitment - than Jon Huntsman Jr."
He served as U. S. ambassador to China and Singapore, was deputy assistant secretary of commerce and was twice elected governor of Utah.
I asked Huntsman, a much sought-after speaker at public gatherings, what made him accept the invitation to be a keynote speaker at this conference?
"The internationalization of U.S. education in our schools, and therefore strengthening our future, is such an important goal that I want to be part of the conversation. It is why I am here," he said in an interview with the Lake Placid News and the Virginia Gazette.
I also asked him what qualities he looked for when, as governor and ambassador, he chose his assistants.
"The key word is 'keen' learners. Those who just want to be professionals, using the knowledge they have learned, don't have a chance in today's global world. You have to be willing to learn constantly and adjust to changing circumstances," he said.
Huntsman has a formula for reforming education in the United States that would turn out keen learners. "America is a bottom-up country," he said. "You have to start with local input. Like textbooks. It can be established at state level, or even municipal level. You have to have a dialog. The internationalization of education, language programs should start very early."
As a parting shot, I asked Huntsman what he learned as a presidential contender about American politics what he didn't know before.
"I learned very quickly how corrupt it is. How we finance our political campaigns has corrupted the whole process. At the grassroots level of politics people would engage. They will turn out without being forced, to meet the candidate, listen to his ideas. Then, on national level, big money comes into play," he said.
By all indication, the Williamsburg conference on Internationalization of U. S. Education in the 21st Century, has achieved its goal. It has reviewed the needs for global competence and identified the strategies and structures needed to ensure that our educational institutions are well positioned to address the nation's global competence.
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from the Virginia Gazette.