Thoughts on the coming decade

I am working on a number of projects right now, all of which deal with science, education and science education in some manner, shape or form. First is the “book” project. Entitled “Science and Education in the 21st Century: A Contrarian View”, it is a look at science, science education and topics that we all need to have some understanding about as the new decade begins and for years beyond. I outlined this book in the piece “A Not So Modest Proposal”.

Second is a more personal piece in that it deals with the relationship between science and religion. I have said it countless times before but it bears repeating, when you say that you are a scientist today, people automatically believe that you do not or are incapable of believing in God. And if you say that you are a Christian today then many will say that you cannot possible accept the physical evidence about this world. Because I am both a scientist and a Christian, I find it hard to accept either argument and think that to do so demeans both and limits any discussion about what the future might bring.

And finally there is this piece about the relationship between education and the economy. In all three projects, the key point is that this country, this society, is exceptionally dumb. Being dumb doesn’t mean that we are stupid or illiterate. It just means we haven’t a clue what’s going on nor do we have any idea of what to expect when tomorrow comes or what to do when the unexpected does come.

Oh yes, we are a literate nation but all that means is that we can read. There are two definitions of literacy. The first is the most commonly understood one, the ability to read. But literacy also means that we are able to understand what we read and we are able to utilize the information that we read. And this is something that, in my own opinion, we are unable and incapable of consistently doing.

This is illustrated in a number of ways. First, there is the ever increasing evidence that we don’t know or understand what we were required to learn when we were in school. One-quarter of American high school students could not identify Adolf Hitler, a third did not know that the Bill of Rights guaranteed the freedom of speech and religion and fewer than half knew that the Civil War took place between 1850 and 1900 (“Clueless in America”). Our reliance on technology assumes that we understand reading, writing and arithmetic. However, we forget it is humans who program that technology.  It doesn’t teach or require us to think.  It has given us a false sense of being an educated and knowledgeable society.

Our inability to understand what we have read also comes across in our understanding (or lack thereof) of religion. While we routinely proclaim this nation as a Christian nation, we do not know what books of the Bible are in which section, we don’t know (or most of us don’t know) what the Gospels are or that Paul was not one of the twelve disciples. We proudly proclaim that it is written in the Bible that “God helps those who help themselves” and seem unaware that this quote is not in the Bible and that it is most often attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

Even though it has been demonstrated that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction nor was there any connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida, most people still insist that there were weapons and there was a connection. We are willingly to accept such notions (along with several other more bizarre conspiracy theories that developed during the last Presidential election) simply because we are more willing to trust the source or we are guided by fear. Our lack of literacy also is evident by the inability to see beyond the horizon of tomorrow and imagine what the consequences of our actions will be for future generations (as if we ever could).  We allow others to tell us what the “truth” is and refuse to search for that “truth” ourselves.  We have become a lazy nation.

We also have a surprisingly inability or lack of or desire to see other points of view. To see and listen to other points of view does not necessarily mean that your views will change; what it does mean is that you can think from the other side of the issue and develop a solution that resolves the problems without strife or resentment. It is a process sorely missing in this country today.  We have become an ugly nation in our inability to see the other side of the issue and would rather demonize people who have a contrary view point.

We are faced with any number of problems facing us as we look into the next decade. There is the terrorism problem, which we seemingly want to combat with more terror. Would it be too much to assume that removing hunger and sickness from the world might actually solve the problem? Or is it that we just like sending our youth off to die in foreign lands for reasons that were lies in the first place?

There is the global energy crisis which we first wish to deny even exists and then, which we want to solve with more crude oil, even though the actual supply of oil is decreasing. There is the global climate change problem, which most people want to say is a false problem but that is because they are 1) unwilling to think it through and 2) are willing to let others tell them how to think. The evidence is there but we are unwilling to accept it.

We could respond to the energy crisis and the global climate change problem if we would think seriously about alternative energy resources. But to think outside the box is something this country is not able to do (as if drilling for more oil tomorrow will save the problem today).  We are losing the competitive edge in innovation and creativity to China and other countries.  We have forgotten that this country lead the world in developing the technology that we have today.  We have become a mediocre nation, willing to sit on the accomplishments of the past without looking to what we can do to ensure a future that keeps us ahead of the rest of the world.  There will come a day when the people of this country will suddenly realize that we are not the power we once were.  What do we do then?

Unless we find some way and some way quick to think outside the box, the coming decade is going to be a very rough one. As we watch the glaciers in Greenland and Norway recede, we can keep telling ourselves that global climate change is a conspiracy. As we keep creating electronic gadgets that take pictures and send them around the world but not know where we are sending them or where they are coming from, as we create social networks where we can keep up to date with the various failings of sports and entertainment superstars, we wonder why our children are not learning in school and why they can’t write a coherent sentence or don’t know the history of this country.

As we distort the history of this country, as we distort the meaning of the Bible, the Qur’an and the Torah, we have to wonder why we are engaged in countless and seemingly endless wars in far-off lands. And one day we will wake up and wonder what happened to the youth of this country.

As laws are written to protect us from terrorism, we wonder why we have no personal freedoms left.  We are becoming a totalitarian nation without knowing it as our freedoms are chipped away bit by bit.

It comes down to this. Borrowing a quote from Marilyn Ferguson that I wrote down many years ago, our freedom is not found by choosing a destination but rather a direction but we must choose that direction, not let someone else choose it for us. And should we choose a path that has no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.

Thomas Jefferson, who is so often quoted by those who would seek to limit the intellect and freedom of so many, wrote in a letter dated January 6, 1816, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

The agenda for the coming decade is fairly clear. Our educational system must be substantially and quickly fixed. It is slowly approaching the breaking point after which no repair is possible. If our educational system is not fixed, then it will be impossible to create new solutions to the present problems and it will be impossible to even envision solutions for problems that we don’t even know about.

We need to put more money into human needs and less money in creating a sense of false security. If workers in this country are working and being paid living wages and salaries, not minimum wages that require two or three jobs just to get by, the productivity of this country will rise. The conservatives of this country spout the mantra of less taxes will create jobs but what has happened to the jobs in this country? What has happened to the productivity of this country under this mantra?

Let’s try something different. Let’s make sure that the workers get the money, not the rich and powerful. Let’s put the money into workers’ hands, not just trickle down to the people (which never did seem to work anyway).

And let’s work to make working conditions in other countries safe and productive; let’s make sure that the workers overseas are paid equitable wages as well. Why do people from other countries seek work in this country? Because it is a whole lot better than anything that is in their country.

The immediate response for many is going to be that this is too much. It will cost too much and people will lose. The only people who will lose already have too much and too many people at the bottom of the social scale have already lost.

It is time to stop and think; to look around and realize that we have to change our direction right now. It is a complicated and complex situation that we have created and it will take more than simple solutions to fix. This coming decade can be one of the greatest in the history of the planet but right now it has all the markings of being the worst and the last this planet will have.

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