Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Pitch for Parabolic Education

I have been thinking about the state of education again.  This is not surprising since I have spent the majority of my life in one education system or another.  My parents were both educated educators, so they got me started even before preschool.  My dad was a reading specialist among other things and my mom still teaches special ed, probably because I was so special to teach.  I still remember a rather boring book that I sat down to read by myself called "Gregory's Dog,"  pronounced George-ory to me since I had a bit of a deficiency in attention.  But I am not here to debate early childhood education, it is a good thing, and the more of it the better.  Our early brains are like sponges and should be allowed or encouraged to absorb as much as we can before we have to fend for ourselves in the ruthless world of shopping malls and freeways in which the majority of us sadly reside.  What I am here to debate is college.

The Problem is a Lack of Direction:

First, the more we can cram into the formative educational years that many governments around the world already provide through tax payer money the better.  Students who finish high school should be able to get a job, a good job, a skilled job, and not just one at Burger Queen.  If you think this is impossible, than you need to have another look at the system.  Most students, who are really taught by the system and have a support system at home as well, have the average math and reading skills to survive by the end of 3rd grade.  There should be no excuse by the end of 6th.  So what are the rest of those years for?  Currently, the best excuse is to keep children out of the work force, because their parents still need jobs.  This is a piss poor excuse for stifling the education of our youth.  But it is common to maintain a status quo in government run institutions.  Attrition rates are high, primarily due to a lack of reality in the coursework.  Do I need to know who's buried in Grant's tomb if I am unemployed and on welfare?  Teachers are able to do little more then token gestures to fix this dramatically flawed system.  What is needed is radical reform which I have spoken about before in my Training for our Future post.  That reform, as I have suggested, should be focused on more applied curriculum at all levels (see my How to Make Money in Science post).  The goal of early education should be to provide individuals with the skills to function and survive in contemporary society.  I repeat they should be able to survive.  That is a simple goal.  So why are so many of high school graduates unemployable nor prepared for obtaining applied training when they finish high school?  (I'm not here to spout figures, but the unemployment rate is higher for those with just high school or less than a high school education.)  There is no call for this.  Many jobs now held by associates and bachelors degree holders can be done without a degree, or with only a certification program that shows competence in a field.  Furthermore, many of these applied certifications, associates, or bachelors degrees could be obtained by student still under the age of eighteen, when they still have a support system and when we are squandering state and federal dollars on an education that nobody needs.  (I say nobody needs, because the only basis for need is employ-ability and/or survival skills, neither of which are obtained by this degree.)  Train people in high school for real jobs, even if they are low end jobs and you will create an employable population.  


The solution is Parabolic Education:

a parabola
 Here is how I see it.  Our early to middle ages of adulthood are a time for exploration, family building, and physical activity.  These formative years are squandered by long hours hitting the books.  They are a time when young men and women should be using their physical strength to perform solid jobs that have an application to the community and to provide the personal incomes necessary for raising children.  (Our growing obesity epidemic is in no small way made worse by our sedentary choices in jobs.)  It is typically a time of financial instability that would be greatly aided by having a solid employable skill and is not often aided by having a terminal degree (in art history).  Once your own children are reared to adulthood (and financial stability) then you will gain economic freedom of choice again.  This is where Parabolic Education comes in.  It is at this stage in life that an individual can once again return to school to achieve their terminal degree.  Retirement no longer means a vacation in Florida until the day you die, but a chance at a new career.  (Furthermore, fat production and physical fitness declines in the elderly, which makes it an ideal time to return to the books.)  Additionally the benefits of life long education have been touted for years.  Interestingly, many industries would benefit from this type of reform.  For example, I refer to my own field of science.  The current market for newly minted PhDs is down; way down.  One statistic (that someone undoubtedly made up) suggests that less than 10 to 20% of PhDs in science may end up working in their field.  Does that prevent Principle Investigators (P.I.) from trying to recruit more students to their labs, or the NIH to limit funding for newly minted PhDs?  Well no, because P.I.s need students to run their cheap labor mills in order to continue making discoveries in science, even if there are no jobs.  So here is the solution.  Hire the elderly to work in the labs as part of their thesis work.  The young need a sustainable income to raise the families of the future, and the elderly want to feel useful to society and to augment their increasingly meager retirement with at least a low paying job.  Disabilities of the elderly, e.g. arthritis, may deter people from this option, however medicine of the future will take care of many of these ailments.  (Indeed, many are suggesting that the new middle age is 60.) 

This solution is not for everyone, but it might provide individuals and society with a choice.  Every step in the education process should provide an individual with greater skills with which to contribute to their family and community worth, and as I have pitched here, perhaps it should follow the trending changes in longevity, employment demands, and needs of society. 

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