Investing in Futures

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Children of Dune (Dune Chronicles, Book 3)
By Frank Herbert
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Futures have long fascinated many members of our species.  For thousands of years we have often desired to know our own futures and have gone to great lengths to find ways of predicting those futures.  From astrology and witchcraft to physics and meteorology, we have continued to seek prescience throughout the development of our species.  We may soon try to create a person who can see the future through genetic engineering or by interfacing their mind with computers.

Other members of our species have had a different interest in futures.  They have sought to build for the future by establishing dominion over others and passing it on to others, to build for the future by creating libraries and passing the collected knowledge onto others, to build up resources and pass them on to others.

In addition, there are those who gamble with futures.  Some might do it while playing with cards or dice, and some might do it with a futures exchange, and some might do it with their credit, including many national governments.  Gambling with futures is as much a longstanding tradition as building them or predicting them.

Our current culture in the United States still retains strong interest in predicting the future, and great advances continue to be made in this capacity within the sciences.  There is also a strong interest in gambling with the future money we may or may not earn, as we can see from the immense amounts of private and public debt and the occasional casino littering our country with the glitz and glamor of what is mostly false hope.

Meanwhile, our education system, such as it is, continues to produce increasingly large amounts of mediocre individuals when it should be producing excellent individuals who can help build a brighter future.  Some blame our culture that prizes leisurely fruitless partying over fruitful hard work, and they have a point.  Some blame the parents of the children who don’t want to do anything and have a sense of entitlement, saying that the parents have failed to instill the values of excellence in their children, and it’s true that some parents have failed their children in this regard.  Some blame the teachers for not being effective teachers and making it too challenging for students, and others blame the teachers for not being effective and not challenging the students sufficiently, and both accusations have a point in that our education system is set up to work for those who make up the bulk of the bell curve, not those who are outliers on it.  Some blame the overemphasis on academic rather than vocational courses for the problems in our educational system, and they have a point in that our culture currently prizes intellectual achievement over physical labor and that it is unsurprisingly reflected in our education system.  Some blame the teacher’s unions for preventing the administrators from removing bad teachers from the schools, and that is sometimes a problem.  Some blame the administrators for stifling teacher’s creativity and desire to be effective teachers through excessive regulation of their behavior and curriculum, and that is a problem as well.

With so many groups and individuals feeling that our education system has major or myriad problems, one might be forgiven for thinking that it is an important thing to us and that we would spend much time and money on it.  And yet budget cuts and excuses for more budget cuts via the No Child Left Behind Act plague the education system.  The pay scale for teachers is still not even equivalent to the compensation a professional with a professional degree and a high level of responsibility would command in the private sector, and we get exactly what we pay for.  Parents sometimes expect that the school will act in loco parentis in a very literal sense, that they will not have to take the time to teach their children because the school is there to do it for them.  And the schools have made every effort to live up to that expectation.  You no longer have to explain the facts about puberty or sex to your children.  You no longer have to talk to your children about how the political process works.  You no longer have to talk to your children about what career to choose.  The schools have structures in place to handle these things for the parents.  We get a lot out of our education system for what we put into it, but when we put so little into it, what we get out is still insufficient.

And we are getting a very dark future out of our education system.  We are getting futures of mediocrity and laziness.  We are getting futures of idealism and entitlement.  If we want bright futures, we have to invest in those futures by investing in our children, our nieces and nephews, and godchildren.  We have to sacrifice the time and the money necessary to build those futures into something that can last long enough to help our children build even brighter futures for their children.  Sadly, sacrifice is devalued in our culture and selfishness exalted, and thus we have a situation in which many call for sacrifice, but few are willing to actually make the sacrifices.

And so we go on predicting our futures and gambling with them, all the while failing to invest in them, which is arguably the best use of resources out of those three options.  Humanity is hilarious.  We’d rather see the future and gamble on it than really do anything to make it better.

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5 Responses to Investing in Futures

  1. galadrial says:

    AH…but they are interested in short term—not long.Long term thinking is not “sexy”.It requires more than ten seconds of thought, and does not yield a fast return.During the Great Depression, we brought together a HUGE collective of minds to not only draw our chestnuts form the fire, but to focus on things of use to us—as a nation. We ended up with a coast to coast road system, that once “prosperity” was attained, fueled our economy to unimaginable success. We built it well…so it required very little upkeep. But that sort of investment require forethought, and careful consideration. It needed no small amount of dreaming, and imagination. I often wonder what would have come of the effort in WW 2, had we not already laid the groundwork with those civilian work forces…but no one talks about that. We, as a nation, have not gotten behind anything since the Nazis…and it stifles our potential…as a country, and a people.”I got mine” is not inscribed, even in Latin, on anything of ours.

  2. QuantumStorm says:

    My cynical side is beginning to feel that without impending doom or something to offer a very real sense of urgency (like the Cold War), it will be very difficult to foster an innovative spirit in the general population. There is some truth to the saying that war breeds innovation. When we reach that level of decadence it is very difficult to remind ourselves to keep that edge. Maybe someday we will get to the point where the pursuit of knowledge itself truly becomes a matter of urgency for our people. 

  3. MrTrololo says:

    John Stossel did a piece on this (quite long) but points out several problems, I wonder what you think of it. http://youtu.be/Bx4pN-aiofw

  4. QuantumStorm says:

    @Nous_Apeiron – Yes, the Great Depression is an excellent example. You might be right about an ecological catastrophe; it might be the very thing that spurs the next generation of innovators (assuming we don’t blow each other up first). There was an article I recently read that highlighted how ecological changes manifest themselves ultimately in military and political discord; I should find the link at some point. 

  5. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @galadrial – Yeah, the need for immediate returns is a serious problem.  And the decreasing attention spans probably aren’t helping.@QuantumStorm – I really don’t think we need a war specifically.  Just survival pressure, and that could come from economic sources as well.  Galadrial mentioned the Great Depression, which I think is a great example of the kind of crisis that could spur that sense of urgency.  An ecological catastrophe could do it as well.@Happily_Married_Guy – John brought up some great points.  Especially about how we spend the money in our education system.  Rather than paying for better teachers and using it to directly reward children for success as well as involving our kids in the running of the school so that they have an investment in it, we spend that money doing everything for them.  And doing everything for someone rarely does much for them in the end when they’re helpless and hapless as a result.I think this video clip of Bill Maher explains well the relationship between a parent’s investment in their child’s education and their success.  Link.

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