Friday, May 14, 2010

An n-Squared Collection of Banana Slugs

I'm not sorry that I've chosen the career path that I have.  I'm extremely upset about some of the things that have happened along that path, which I may or may not detail later.  I understand now, understood when I chose this path, that the money isn't the answer.  None of us are in these traditionally low-paying jobs for the financial rewards.

So, that begs two questions: First, if not for the money, why, then are we here? And second, if the things we do are important, have importance, have value, why, then, are we paid significantly less than others?

I'm all for science and technology.  People who have the ability to expand knowledge, apply knowledge to practical solutions, should be justly rewarded.  I note as I write this that I chose the word "justly" and that struck my as odd.  Is there an un-just reward?  Yeah, I think there is, and I know I have a lot to say about that, but that's not the purpose of what I'm thinking about right now.

What concerns me from this morning's reading is that the professions that contribute to the health, well-being, foundation of society and culture are the ones who typically get screwed in the money game.  I'm thinking especially of teachers.

Of the others on the list of best- and worst-paid professions, I know that some are just naturally going to be a financial challenge.  It's built in to the system.  Actors and directors, on average, are underpaid and unemployed because, on average, most of them suck.  Talent, hard work, and persistence are rewarded.  Persistence more than talent and hard work.  Same for musicians.

I recall a conversation I had with a friend last week about teachers and the crap they are facing right now in terms of budget cuts and the future of the profession.  I noted that I dislike the idea that teachers, as a whole, have some sort of cushy job that isn't all that hard and, as such, don't deserve to be paid all that well.  I am dismayed that some of the (valid) criticism of modern teaching has been inflated to smear the whole profession and the professionals who practice it. 

Insert your favorite argument about teachers' unions, charter schools, home schooling, parochial schools, and decline and fall of western civilization here.

The problem is, as I may humbly point out, that we as a society and culture have neglected our responsibility to educate. 

Universal Public Education, kindergarten to high school, was developed to support the Industrial Revolution.  The purpose was to give a student, a future member of the working society, just enough education to work at the mill.  (Insert Monty Python "We Had It Tough" sketch here.)  The "Elites" had access to what we still call higher education, and a tradition of pursuing it. 

Times change, economies and societies change, requirements change, and minimum standards of behavior and acceptability change.  But we are still turning out students who are no more prepared to compete in today's challenges than the ones we produced a hundred years ago.

So, what does that get us?  We have multiple generations, now, who believe that they are, each, the center of the Universe.  OK, I'm a little harsh on that.  When the requirement for functioning in society was no more challenging than knowing which button to push and lever to pull at work, and whether it's socially acceptable to kiss on the first date, the whole idea of Critical Thinking was less than unimportant.  It was useless and dangerous.

We as a society, American society and World society, no longer have the option of disregarding critical thought. 

One would think it's a paradox that in a world of now (almost) seven billion people that the intellectual skills of each individual is more important than it was when the population was significantly smaller.  I suggest that the paradox is resolved by considering Metcalfe's Law: The value of a [network] is proportional to the number of nodes [elements] in it, squared.  V = n^2.  As the population grows, the value of what we do, and the impact we can have on each other, grows.  I know it still looks like a paradox: one person squared is still one person, and it would seem that as n increases to infinity that the value of each individual element approaches zero. 

The intellectual value in considering the contribution of the individual is that an n-squared collection of banana slugs is still just a mess of invertebrates waiting to be squashed under the wheels of some car.  An n-squared collection of well educated, critical thinking, culturally aware, humans makes for a more interesting place to live.

No comments: