Monday, September 13, 2010

Solving the World's Problem One Day at a Time

I really like it when someone else verbalizes something that stews in my brain. It wakes me up to think Hey, why aren't I saying anything about this?

That being said, I came across an op-ed piece today by Thomas L. Friedman called We're Number 1(1)!. The article piqued my interest, making me put some things together that I haven't thought of in a while.

I have always heard the term "The Greatest Generation" attributed to my grandparents' generation. I never had that great of a relationship with my grandparents because they lived far away and I was a (sometimes) cantankerous teenager. I would rather stay home and have a weekend to myself than make a road trip down to Utah and stay with people who seemed so far detached from my current situation. This was before I found out that you could learn things from other people that didn't share your viewpoints.

Now that I have become somewhat enlightened, I struggle with many of my generation. Many seem to be self-serving to a large degree. Many were raised with both parents working, so they were given free reign to do as they pleased until Mom and Dad came home at 5:00. Self-gratification was the name of every afternoon, which has translated into schooling.

Friedman says it this way:
We had a values breakdown — a national epidemic of get-rich-quickism and something-for-nothingism. Wall Street may have been dealing the dope, but our lawmakers encouraged it. And far too many of us were happy to buy the dot-com and subprime crack for quick prosperity highs.

Our big problems are unfolding incrementally — the decline in U.S. education, competitiveness and infrastructure, as well as oil addiction and climate change. Our generation’s leaders never dare utter the word “sacrifice.” All solutions must be painless. Which drug would you like? A stimulus from Democrats or a tax cut from Republicans? A national energy policy? Too hard. For a decade we sent our best minds not to make computer chips in Silicon Valley but to make poker chips on Wall Street, while telling ourselves we could have the American dream — a home — without saving and investing, for nothing down and nothing to pay for two years. Our leadership message to the world (except for our brave soldiers): “After you.”
Another author, Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post, argues that people have lost their zeal for learning.
The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation. Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren’t motivated, even capable teachers may fail. Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a ‘good’ college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure. The unstated assumption of much school ‘reform’ is that if students aren’t motivated, it’s mainly the fault of schools and teachers.” Wrong, he said. “Motivation is weak because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don’t like school, don’t work hard and don’t do well. In a 2008 survey of public high school teachers, 21 percent judged student absenteeism a serious problem; 29 percent cited ‘student apathy.
Samuelson is talking about primary and secondary schooling, but I would hazard a guess that this issue occurs in graduate and post-graduate work as well. It declines sharply once you are paying for your education, but I know that there are high school grads right now who are cutting classes. The sun is shining and their friend is having a barbecue tonight. It won't hurt to skip just one class, because their teacher is teaching in a large lecture hall with 119 other students who are supposed to be there.

I was amazed by the fact that as I was in college, people were just trying to make the grade instead of learning. I saw a discussion on LinkedIn claiming that someone's military experience had given him more useful skills than his Master's degree. He cited the fact that he learned a can-do attitude in the military, which was more important than the education he received. While the military can teach you a lot, I don't buy the fact that his education was not of value. I buy the fact that he does not value his education. Or maybe the fact that he felt his education's value had been inflated.

The cost of education is rising, but so is the cost of not getting an education. How do we expect to fix the economy if we encourage freeloading? If someone is used to asking for the answer on all their tests, aren't they going to be fine asking for the answer on all their work assignments?

I appreciate it when people live up the their mistakes. I don't find that it tarnishes their reputation, especially in difficult situations. Instead, it tells me that they are human, like me. I know I make mistakes (even though I don't like to), and I don't know how to fix everything, but I do my small part by attempting to do a couple of things:
  1. Try to make someone's day better every day. I go out of my way to help out someone each day. Sometimes it is something as small as offering to write an email for a colleague that has a slammed workload. I just try to do at least one thing a day to make someone's life easier.
  2. Accept responsibility for my successes and failures. It is hard to do at times, but I do it anyway.
  3. Use the things I learned in life (or school) to make my own life easier. I have many friends and family members who are teachers, and I find them to generally be giving and passionate individuals who feel like their hands are tied. I honor them by trying to use the knowledge they offered to me. We all know that they don't get rewarded handsomely for their chosen profession.
  4. Put myself in situations where I can learn. If I am not learning, I feel bored. That is just the way I work. For this reason, I know a little bit about a lot of things. If you have new things for me to learn, please send them my way.
  5. Explore the arts. Books and music have a way of expanding my views on life that give me vicarious experience. It gives me a chance to attempt or experience something without having to fall on my face in a public space. It also helps me connect with other people. These things tap into my emotions and remind me of people who I might need to help the next day.
What kinds of things do you do to make sure you stay industrious or honor those who have taught you?

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