Thursday, December 15, 2011

D’oh Ray Me

There is great entertainment value in stupidity. Movies starring Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller or Steve Carrell tend not to be intellectually stimulating which is virtually a crime with some of their talent. Criminals have their own brand of smarts. Violating societal rules that results in being locked away in a cage is inherently problematic, but there are some who have earned the moniker of “Stupidist Criminals.” There are so many of them that many websites are dedicated to them and even the Huffington Post has an entire section detailing their antics.

Case in point: last week two South Florida women are accused of stealing Christmas decorations from their neighbor's yard. They were caught when they put the stolen decorations up in a yard less than a block away.

Actions such as these are an easy indictment of the educational system.

Today’s concept of compulsory schooling has its roots in the Reformation, but in the States it became standard in the early 1900s as a response to the Industrial Revolution needing more skilled labor.

The result is 99% literacy rate in the U.S. with 85% graduating from high school and 27% obtaining a post-high school degree.  Over $900 billion is spent combined on public and private education.

Peter Thiel, the co-founder of Paypal, made headlines earlier this year when he named 20 Fellowship winners who would each be paid $100,000 not to go to college. With a list of success stories like Bill Gates (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple), Henry Ford (Ford) and Mark Zuckerburg (Facebook) amongst others  – many have been making the argument that the automatic path to college may not make sense anymore.

Students are graduating college with record amounts of debt. Student loans are $1 trillion...five times what it was just 10 years ago.  The unemployment rate amongst recent college graduates is at its highest level ever: 9.3%  and within the arts disciplines that grows to 16.2%. (Nursing is the best option at 2.2%.)

Both major political parties are committed to education. The GOP 2008 party platform said in part: “Education is a parental right, a state and local responsibility, and a national strategic interest.”

The Democrats platform says in part: “Democrats share with all parents the commitment to prepare our children to lead lives of happiness and success. That’s why we’re dedicated to ensuring the next generation has access to a first-rate education and the tools to drive our economy forward. Our country is strongest when our workers are trained with the knowledge and ingenuity to perform at the highest levels.”

The words are a bit different and the funding approach varies between the parties. Whether education is financed at the local level or from federal dollars – the essential commonality is that some form of taxation is envisioned by both parties to deliver education to the masses.

This one-size-fits-all approach to education on the part of mainstream politicians misses a more nuanced reality. What role should formal education play in American society? Certain professions demand extended training. Doctors already undergo many years of study, but they might even need more specialized training than they currently get. Society benefits when lawyers, judges and politicians are knowledgeable about an array of subjects. Truth be told, though, is that everybody doesn’t need a broad based education.

Johns Hopkins University released a study last summer that proved that some people are born good at math and others not so much. How much time and effort should be invested in having that student become proficient at something they’re not good at? Would those same dollars and efforts be better utilized on the student’s strengths: History, English, etc.? And vice-versa – why drill a student who is born gifted at math on a subject they may not be capable of? Teach, nurture and foster the strengths that people inherently have…not to the exclusion of everything else...but shifting the current equality for everybody to a more balanced and individual approach. Establish a baseline literacy in subjects that all must achieve and then based on one’s interests and gifts a more intense and specialized course of study is pursued.

America would benefit by a more customized approach to education. We’d wind up having plumbers and mechanics who will have been on their chosen path just like lawyers and doctors. Student debt would not just accumulate but be an investment that can actually yield a return. We’d become a smarter and more dynamic country because we’d be investing in individual strengths rather than general ideals. Homer, the great Greek philosopher and no intellectual slouch, would support his cartoon namesake in supporting this fresh approach. D’oh!

1 comment:

  1. Excellent points about education, Craig, and I love the cartoons! Len.