Diplomatic Pouch / April 3, 2012
By Larry Luxner
A university president, a popular ambassador, one of the nation’s highest-ranking intelligence officers, a veteran TV news correspondent and the former CEO of the world’s leading foreign-language software company were all honored Mar. 8 for their contributions to global education by the World Affairs Council of Washington, D.C.
More than 670 people attended the organization’s lavish 2012 Global Education Gala at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. WAC-DC Chairman John M. Duff Jr. said it was “the largest dinner in our history” — and a testament to the importance of global education in American classrooms today.
“We’re way behind in understanding the world, and that’s where our focus should be. Kids need to better understand the world they’re entering into, so there’s no question this is our biggest challenge,” Duff told his audience. “We do have some advantages, being in Washington, D.C., so whatever we do is likely to have ripple effects across the country. We’re also part of a big network, so we have access to national programs.”
As gala attendees dined on crushed avocado, tomato couscous, whole-roasted beef tenderloin and Mexican chocolate ganache with salted caramel sauce, they heard from Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s ambassador to the United States and winner of this year’s Distinguished Diplomatic Service Award.
“I accept this award on behalf of President Felipe Calderón and his decision to deepen and widen the strategic ties with the United States,” said Sarukhan, who has represented Mexican interests in Washington since 2007.
The ambassador, whose speech followed a 10-minute promotional video, said Mexican-Americans have the highest dropout rate among Latino students in this country.
“The best way to empower them and integrate them into the fabric of this great nation is through education. I don’t have to tell you how this relationship affects the daily lives of millions of Mexicans,” he said. “And despite the Irans, Iraqs and Afghanistans of this world, there is no bilateral relationship more important to the future well-being of the United States than the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. We need to ensure that citizens on both sides of the border understand this. I truly believe that in the 21st century, diplomacy should no longer be the domain only of fuddy-duddies in Washington.”
That remark elicited laughter throughout the Ritz-Carlton ballroom, whose audience included no less than 50 ambassadors representing countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. So did Sarukhan’s definition of diplomacy as “the ability to tell someone to go to hell, and have him actually enjoy the trip.”
Also honored were Howard University President Sidney Ribeau; Tom Adams, chairman of the board of Rosetta Stone Inc., and James R. Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence. Christiane Amanpour, chief international correspondent for CNN International, was called away on assignment at the last minute and wasn’t able to attend.
Adams, accepting the Global Education Award on behalf of his Virginia-based software company, told attendees that it’s evident one must learn a foreign language to be economically relevant.
“In most countries, the domestic economy is only a very small part of its overall economy. Germany gets 47 percent of its GDP from exports, compared to 13 percent for the U.S., so as we come out of this very tough recession, it’s very clear that we need not just engineering talent, but also global talent,” he said. “Folks who are able to travel and communicate and build marketing prowess. That means we need to learn more, and different, languages.”
Adams is a living example of such an entrepreneur; a native of Sweden, he grew up in France and is fluent in French, Swedish, English and Spanish. He has a working knowledge of German and Chinese, and is currently learning Russian.
“In Germany, people spend three times as many hours learning foreign languages as in the United States. That’s why they have a lot more success exporting,” said Adams, whose company, Rosetta Stone, reported 2010 revenues of $259 million. “If we only focus on engineering and deny ourselves the opportunity of giving young people the languages they need to be successful, we’re losing out. For us to succeed at making this transformation and making our society much more export-oriented, we’re going to have to change the way we teach languages.”
For example, he said, “we know that teaching conjugations of verbs and making you memorize grammar tables will not make you proficient. If we teach children the wrong way, then it won’t matter how much money we spend, or how much time we dedicate. And it’s not just about business. When you learn a new language, you change your world, you become much more confident, you understand the world better, and you feel more globally successful.”
Clapper, the evening’s keynote speaker, certainly agrees with that statement.
“For those of us in the intelligence business, global education is a matter of national security,” said Clapper, himself the son of an intelligence officer who spent 28 years overseas. As a result, Clapper spent part of his childhood years in a part of Ethiopia which is now Eritrea — and went on to serve in Vietnam, Thailand and Korea.
“The opportunity to live in foreign lands certainly shaped my world view, for the better,” he said. “Learning about other places is one of the greatest advantages of serving in the U.S. intelligence community, now more so than ever in the context of counter-terrorism. It’s one of the reasons I’ve stayed in the business so long.”
Clapper, 70, recalled that things were far simpler back in Cold War days, when the Soviet Union was the only enemy the United States really had to worry about.
“Despite the fact they were communist and we were democratic, we were both products of Western civilization and we understood each other pretty well,” he said.
“Today, the threats we face are bewildering, and we need to invest a significant amount of intellectual capital in order to understand these other cultures.”
Clapper, who made news earlier this month with his assertion that it’s “technically feasible” for Iran to produce a nuclear weapon in one or two years — but not sooner than that — warned that future enemies of the United States will likely be tribal groups and issue-based terrorist organizations rather than specific countries.
“They may not have a fixed location on the earth, and they may be brought together from around the globe with grievances against the West — or belong to cultures with which we rarely engage,” he said. “We are obligated to conduct deeper social research to better grasp these grievances before they turn into violence. That’s why intelligence education is a national security issue, and students need a better understanding of this increasingly complex world.”