Friday, February 18, 2011

I Fear For All Humanity

Earlier this week, I watched a documentary called Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century. It went about showing some of the schools out there that are really progressively and aggressively finding new ways to teach that are far more effective and applicable that the wildly out-of-date traditional model that most of us learned under. They showcased several different groups taking some pretty different, but all innovative, approaches and, they all seemed to be doing well. Certainly a lot better than traditional models.

Not to say they weren't without problems, of course, but they were addressing learning as it pertains to the early 21st century, not learning as it pertained to the early 20th century. That had me excited, since I've long thought that the education model I was instructed under was tremendously inappropriate for the time. But, towards the end of the documentary, one of the commentators (whose name I don't recall offhand) noted that we really have two options going forward: we can see the country divide into two groups, the poor following along with the same outdated teaching models that leave them functionally illiterate (as defined in the 21st century) and the rich who are able to afford these more "avante garde" programs that actually teach their children how to successfully navigate the world; or we could scrap the whole current system and start over with something closer to these new models that are being developed and raise the bar for everyone.

Earlier this year, the Chronicle for Higher Education released this interactive chart highlighting the percentage of Americans who have received a college degree. It allows you to examine the country's progress in that regard going back to 1940. Not surprisingly, the numbers increase over time, most dramatically in areas with denser populations. But the first thing I noticed was that, as of 2009, the percentage of Americans with college degrees is only 27.5%. Barely over a quarter of the country. Now, I'm the first to admit that a college degree definitely does NOT correlate with intelligence, and there are a lot of brilliant people out there who either can't or simply won't go to school after it's no longer mandatory. But what I do find equally striking is that, if you study the numbers over time, the rate at which degreed individuals increases slows down dramatically after 1990.

Nielsen (the people who monitor TV ratings) released the following infographic early last month, showing a lot of statistics about TV and cell phone usage...


Lots of interesting things to look at, but what I want to call your specific attention to is the small bar chart on the left. The average American watches 35.6 hours of television per week. That's over five hours per day! I understand that work can be draining and you might not have much energy for much beyond vegetating in front of the idiot box after a hard day of work, but... for five hours?!? Really? That's coming home from work at 5:30, sitting in front of the TV while you eat dinner and not doing anything else until you're ready to go to bed after the evening news. I honestly have trouble processing that.

"Yes, Sean, we get it! You're a cynical bastard, Americans are all idiots and you hate everyone. Get to your point!"

Hang on a moment. Let me throw this quote at you...
Healthy people — who know how to deal with disappointment, who have given up on the idea of magic bullets, who don’t watch TV indiscriminately, who are fulfilled by things that don’t cost money — are poor consumers, and so the very-high-level marketers have nurtured a culture which produces the exact opposite.

You are being encouraged, from virtually every angle, to become or remain unhealthy and unfulfilled, because then you will buy more. Not to make you paranoid, but that’s the primary purpose of the glowing rectangle in your living room — to encourage poor (but not quite failing) health, general complacency, and an unconscious reflex for parting with money.

It's from this Raptitude post which I've been mulling on for the past week or two. His blog, subtitled "Getting better at being human", is about trying to achieve a higher quality of life, about recognizing what does and doesn't further that end and why, and how to live a happy life. But not in the "quick fix" methodology that lines the self-help sections of bookstores, but about asking hard questions about yourself.

No. Not the hard questions. The hard question. Singular. Why?

That's the question that most people don't ask. Not seriously. Why they distract themselves with five hours of television every night. Why they don't further their education after high school. Why those new models of education won't be implemented nationally.

"It's always been done this way," is not an answer. Ever.

"But that guy does it like this," is not an answer. Ever.

"I don't know," is not an answer. Ever.

Why has it always been done that way? Even if it was the best method once, have things changed that warrant a new approach? Why does he do things like that? Do you have different resources, abilities or goals that might suggest a different method? Why don't you know, and why can't you find out?

There are WAAAAAAY too many people on this planet who don't think about what they're doing or why. Don't be one of them.

1 comment:

Matt K said...

Damn, Sean. That's some pretty heavy stuff to throw at a person on a Friday evening.

The first paragraph of that quote is particularly striking, mostly because it really expresses a lot of thoughts I've had for some time.

I mean, I don't think of myself as a model for anyone, but... well really, the thing is that there's just not much for me to add to that comment because it already says it, including for me personally.

Certainly, despite the fact that I'm by no means an ascetic, I've assumed for some time that our entire economy would implode if everyone suddenly had such a (relatively) small appetite for buying as I have.

Which far from everyone does, obviously, yet/therefore it's rather affecting to hear someone else suggest so many of the same things.

(Also, funny-for-multiple-reasons, I was just now finishing a draft blog post touching very closely related themes. Do remind me to let you know when it's published.)