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According to what I read in the newspapers and elsewhere, many states, from California to New York, are facing serious financial crisis. The budget deficits even in smaller states like Arizona approach a billion dollars. There is also a reluctance to raise taxes in most states, so the only alternative left to meet the crisis is to cut spending.

Inasmuch as education costs are among the highest, if not the highest, of state expenditures, budget cutters are sharpening their knives as they look at school costs. Universities are raising tuition fees; teachers are being terminated, resulting in larger class size; and needed construction is being postponed. While this may provide temporary relief, in the long run such actions may prove costly.

It is an established fact that one of the all-time greatest investments this country has ever made was the G.I. Bill of Rights which enabled hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of veterans to obtain a college education. This country has reaped countless benefits from the increase in our store of knowledge and its distribution among such a large number of our young people.

Economic pressure is not all bad though, for it forces us to seek ways to become more efficient or get more “bang for the buck.” When I served on our local school board, I learned that the primary function of education is to transmit the culture from the current and past generations on to the next generation.

But I also became aware of the tremendous pressure placed upon our public education system to become an instrument for social change. This added “mission” has also carried a price tag and appears to be headed for reconsideration.

The efficiency of charter schools and home teaching are among concepts being evaluated. New teaching methods are also being suggested. One minister, a good friend of mine, sensitive to the high divorce rate we are experiencing, said that if he were teaching math, he would do so in the context of personal financial management, rather than in abstract terms. It would seem that many young people who can factor a quadratic equation cant manage their finances. It would be better if they understood compound interest in terms of the interest they pay on credit card purchases rather than studying sterile interest tables. Financial ills are one of the major causes for divorce and are preventable.

A professor at Indiana University opined that if he were teaching history, he would do so by lifting up the life and accomplishments of heroes. He reasoned that in any particular period of history there were people who made things happen, and the study of their lives would make history live and become more relevant and memorable in terms of what happened and why.

My own reading of the biographies of some of our founding fathers would certainly bear out that proposition.

I am a great believer in and supporter of public education, and I believe that somehow we will get through this crisis and hopefully be stronger because of this economically induced examination. Education is still the best investment our society makes to retain our leadership among the community of nations.

But education in the public sector is not the only victim of budget constraints today. Corporate America is also experiencing a budget crunch resulting from a drop in profits. Like state lawmakers, company “bean counters” are having to look to expenditures that can be eliminated or reduced. Typically, advertising (a form of education) and education itself are among the first to feel the knife. Again, the temporary relief usually has long-term consequences that can be a drag on future growth and prosperity.

Commercial education, while having a somewhat more narrow focus, does nevertheless share the mission of public education in that it transmits the present culture to future generations. Long before the professor at Indiana University I referred to earlier was born, our business was teaching through the lives of our heroes.

In the early 1900s people like Ed Woods, Paul Clark and John Newton Russell championed the concept of the life underwriter as a professional, setting an example for future generations who would be attracted to the CLU program they helped established.

In the mid-1900s towering figures like Clay Hamlin and later John Todd extended our reach to the corporate uses of life insurance, sharing their experiences with several generations of life underwriters.

In more recent times, we learned from people like Ben Feldman, Marshal Wolper and John Riddings Lee that there is virtually no limit to what one can achieve in life insurance sales.

In my own case, along with countless others, I was educated at local life underwriter association meetings by heroes who, in an unselfish way, shared their secrets of success. I am absolutely certain that absent that learning experience, I would never have made it through my early years in the business. Then later, exposure to a more sophisticated, but similar, experience at annual meetings of the Million Dollar Round Table and the Association for Advanced Life Underwriting enabled further growth.

Fortunately, that kind of educational opportunity is still available, although sad to say, it is severely underutilized. At a time when economics require belt tightening in other areas, it is in everyones interest to reinvigorate this cost-effective means of bringing our culture to new people in our business.

The field manager who fails to encourage his or her people to take advantage of this bargain basement learning experience is passing up one of the finest career development experiences available.

Perhaps if we learn to do our job more effectively, we can also help those troubled couples to better manage their finances, thereby lowering the divorce rate, which is approaching a national disgrace. Education is the key to an enlightened society and it can come in many forms.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, May 12, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved. Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.