A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Justice University

"Academia is in a shambles. The “Education Industry” — the term itself is revealing — is geared toward persuading as many students as possible to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars they don’t have, to train for jobs that won’t exist when they graduate, and to assume a lifetime of non-repayable debt to do so. A liberal arts education is often ignored when it is not ridiculed. The idea that education prepares the student to “pursue the good” (what many people regard as the meaning of life) appears to have little or no currency on university campuses, much less in high schools or grade schools. Justice, while it is paid lip service on occasion, is often misunderstood, when it is understood at all. 
The inevitable conclusion is that today’s educational system is not helping students grow in wisdom or teaching them how to apply basic principles of justice and the other virtues to the problems of individual and social life. Education has itself become part of the problem. Not only are tremendous resources of time and money being wasted, lives and intellects are being destroyed to support an unsustainable and unjust economic and political system." (CESJ, 2014)

I thought I'd share that little nugget, quoted above, that appeared in my in-box from my dad, as the lead to a funding proposal for a new kind of on-line university. CESJ's funding proposal has sparked a little reflection that goes beyond the truly outstanding 6th grade math curriculum I am currently teaching during summer school. Anyone living in the 21st century is swimming in information. Why then, given the global, at your fingertips, low-cost diffusion of information via the Internet, to which virtually any American with a library card has free and unlimited access, are schools needed? Since the United States spends more per capita on education than any other nation, and since in theory, we live in a democracy, as stakeholders, doesn't it make sense that we need to be extremely clear about the purposes of education?

Having spent nearly two hours at Starbucks tonight with a mom who is highly concerned about her rising 6th grader who does not take his education as seriously as he takes his concerns about being perceived as a dweeb if he isn't wearing the latest tennis shoes, I get the sense that the question of how to motivate students, within today's anything goes cultural climate, is a question simmering in most parents' minds. I will be sharing my DVD of Donald Duck in Mathemagic Land, which during elementary school inspired a lifelong curiosity about mathematics in me more than anything else, which closed with an inscription from Gallileo, that "Mathematics is the alphabet of the universe," or something along those lines. Tonight, I compared math to a hammer, a tool that in itself is not necessarily useful, but is only useful when used to construct something. The question, then, is exactly what are we constructing and upon what foundation?

In 1986, the eminent Dr. Lawrence Kohlberg invited me to attend his conference on School Climate and Governance at Harvard University. Having studied Kohlberg's Moral Stage theory at Georgetown University in Dr. Jesse Mann's Moral Development class, as a recent graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences, I had the privilege of being seated next to Dr. Kohlberg at CESJ's annual celebration. After Dr. Kohlberg's Moral Stage Theory was effectively neutered when Dr. Kohlberg's significant other, Dr. Anne Gilligan, questioned the sample population on which Dr. Kohlberg's theorgy was based -- Dr. Kohlberg had originally studied boys only. Dr. Gilligan argued that girls think differently than boys and that more study was needed before any conclusions could be drawn from Kohlberg's original work. I don't remember hearing much about Dr. Kohlberg's Justice-Based curriculum after Dr. Kohlberg's belongings were shortly thereafter found along a beach. I have wondered ever since, why did Dr. Kohlberg decide to make that final swim? Was my cynical outlook, not unusual for a young person in his early 20's, the final straw that finally pushed him over the edge?

The adage, "begin with the end in mind," stands in stark juxtaposition to the moral drift and general alienation from political and financial institutions and business organizations many sense but cannot explain because of a lack of clarity concerning the meaning of justice and the purpose of getting an education. That's why I suspect that a market exists for Justice University and that somebody with deep pockets will ultimately fund this worthy endeavor.

Students who lack a sense of purpose are set up to fail, or in the imagery of Jim Rohn, soon find themselves adrift on a boat without paddles heading towards Niagara Falls. What seems missing from most conversations about education, in my experience, is any deep discussion regarding the question, what is the end-product of education? Most teachers I hear trying to sell young students on the idea that a good education is important argue that the purpose of education is to produce "skilled workers," more recently workers skilled in STEM areas (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The problem, if Ray Kurzweil, Louis Kelso, and William Ferree are all correct, is that such jobs will soon be taken over by "intelligent machines" as early as 2028. Don't sleep on Watson. Don't sleep on what Google, under the direction of Ray Kurzweil has been doing. Wake up and smell the coffee! If the purpose of education is to produce skilled workers, might the business of education, as currently designed, be headed for an evolutionary dead-end? Might a paradigm shift, as suggested by CESJ, provide an intelligent, sustainable way forward?

Jefferson, in harmony with CESJ, might have questioned, "What kind of citizens are our educational system producing?" Given our species' biological predisposition to neotony, which explains from an "adaptive radiation" perspective why an educated citizenry makes perfect biological sense, sensitive observers might worry that a general lack of preparation and overall sense of malaise might open the door for a tyrant, in blitzkrieg fashion, who might fill the political and intellectual vacuum? What if a tyrant, skillful in the art of Orwellian doublespeak, were able to present misinformation as fact to unwitting, unskilled consumers of information, in such a manner that free citizens willingly decided to put on the intellectual shackles that would enslave them? That is essentially the prospect that CESJ, in describing the system of "wage slavery," is warning about.