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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Education, Work and Elephants

I am really tired of hearing about problems in education. There seems to be no end of complaints. Teachers don't get paid enough, children don't learn enough, college is too expensive, college graduates cannot find jobs, etc., etc., etc.
    My opinion should be taken with a grain of salt as I seem to be somewhere out on the fringe. In some respects I consider myself fairly average, but in other ways maybe not so much.
    I am pretty sure the problems that are being attributed to schools are more likely problems with our society.
    As near as I can tell, kindergarten is the most important class. That's where kids learn to mind their manners. Well, some of them anyway. Elementary school is important for our society because that's where kids learn to read. After that, well, it's pretty much optional. Some people go on to high school and learn things and some go on to high school and do not. I think high school tries to prepare people to be survive in the real world and hopefully be good citizens, but that's a difficult task for teachers and students alike, and not all students are ready, willing and able to absorb these lessons.
    A liberal arts college education has been getting a lot bad press lately as it is no longer a guarantee of a"good" job. As near as I can tell, the main purpose of a liberal arts education is to maintain our civilization. There is a great deal more involved in a maintaining a civilized society than acquiring a surfeit of arcane scientific or engineering knowledge. People are the most complicated constructs on the planet and all of our scientific knowledge has barely scratched the surface. Culture and liberal arts is basically the study of the behavior of human beings and how they interact with each other, and this study can often provide illuminating insights into how people work. It is on a completely different level than math or science but it is no less valuable.
    Many, if not most, of the jobs in our society are not particularly interesting. Many are boring, menial and repetitive. For many people, if the pay and benefits are adequate, that is enough. Then there are jobs that keep you busy. I know many of the cashiers at the local grocery store like it better when they are busy. Standing around waiting for something to do can be boring, and boredom is the enemy of happiness and the father of mischief.
    Once upon a time I heard that when you ask Americans what they do, they tell you about their job, whereas if you ask a Brit they will tell you about their hobby. I think this is where a liberal arts degree can be a benefit. You may have a boring, tedious job, but an education would have exposed you to a larger world, so you might find something to occupy your mind, I mean besides, sex, drugs and rock & roll.
    My three kids have all graduated from the University of Oregon with liberal arts degrees. Being a gearhead of the first order I was a little surprised that none of them were interested in science or engineering. Perhaps it was my gruff behavior or ranting about employers that turned them off, or perhaps it was just their natural inclination. They have all found jobs, though none of them are what you could call "good" jobs. Dutiful daughter is working on web pages for an American company from her apartment in Buenos Aires. While the pay is not spectacular, it is is several times what she was offered by local businesses, if they even made her an offer.
    Younger son tells us that going rate for day laborers in Norway is $50 or $60 an hour, which would be enough to keep even me happy. Unfortunately, prices are correspondingly higher, roughly four times what they are here in the USA. A six pack of beer is $30, a perfectly ordinary house is a million dollars, so it's debatable whether you would actually come out ahead. He is going to try and so has bought a airline ticket back to Bergen. I am trying to convince older son to start an elephant ranch in Africa. So far the idea hasn't generated any interest.
    A while back some people decided that the trade in elephant ivory was threatening elephants with extinction, so they decided to put a ban on the ivory trade. This may have slowed down the poachers, but there seems to have been a resurgance: last year 25,000 elephants were slaughtered for their ivory. I am thinking we really need to rescind the ban on ivory trading and put a Texan in charge of the whole elephant / ivory business. Run it like a cattle ranch. Harvest (kill) a number of elephants each year, butcher them for the meat and ivory, sell it at auction on the open market. Run a real anti-poaching patrol. Someone who had a vested interest in maintaining the herd would want to make sure no one was rustling his "cattle". Of course there is old problem of "this is Africa", and so it might not work, and might make things worse, but I think it would be worth a shot.


Ole Phat Stu said...

"Someone ... would want to make sure no one was rustling his "cattle". ... I think it would be worth a shot."

Probably unintentional, but quite funny nevertheless ;-)

Chuck Pergiel said...

Har! No, it was not intended. The mind works in mysterious ways.