Education, Training, Learning And Knowledge: Part 7

Los Alamos World Futures
The previous part of this series asked if we can restructure education to meet the demands of our evolving culture and technology when we cannot really measure the results for a generation and can we afford it? These are two questions and each has many parts. Let’s start with restructuring.
If a new bubble enters the environment today we say it can emerge independently into the greater bubble of society in 18 years.
If knowledge doubles every 13 months, it will have doubled 16.6 time by high school graduation.
Doing the math, that is 99,334 times more knowledge out there than at birth. During my lifetime, knowledge has doubled 69.23 times or there are 727 quintillion more knowledge units (whatever they are) than when I was born.
I must be completely honest and confess that I do not know what they are or even how to look them up. Maybe Google can handle it. So what can we forget or never learn in the first place? Perhaps a better approach is to ask what does each bubble really need to know to be successful?
Success is different for everyone, but I would suggest it is the opportunity to pursue happiness. It is having the knowledge, skills, and abilities to define what you want as an individual bubble and pursue the dream. Success is when your life is done, people will say WELL DONE.
This is a rather vague statement, defining a term with a measure that is itself vague. It will have a different meaning for every individual bubble, but it does suggest we have a collective obligation to develop in other bubbles the motivation, understanding, drive and capacity to achieve success. But is it the success of the individual bubble or the collective bubble, however you define them.
Neil Postman, on page 177 of his book Technolopy, wrote “What you have to do to be a success must be addressed only after you have found a reason to be successful.” This is how the individual bubble must explore success on a personal level, yet two paragraphs above I suggest that success is measured by the assessment of others. Well done.
But the story is more complex. Postman, two pages later, asserts a leftist perspective (his description) counter argument that the story of “Western civilization” is partial, biased, and oppressive. “It is not the story of blacks, American Indians, Hispanics, women, homosexuals – or any people who are not white heterosexual males of Judeo-Christian heritage.”
I am not asserting that this was Postman’s view, but it was published 27 years ago.
Is it applicable today and how do we define the American culture and ensure its inclusiveness? The assessment of “well done” is influenced by the culture.
In my examination of education, in an environment of evolving culture and rapidly advancing technology, our education system needs to teach culture (obviously very hard to define), the ability to communicate (reading and writing – both aurally and visually) and the ability to think (arithmetic – how you state and solve problems).
Or is our education system purely intended to produce new workforce bubbles after 18 years while allowing the academically elite to become the Alphas or Betas in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World? Look at the pyramidal structure of most organizations.
If you accept this economic policy argument as the sole reason for education, look at two dropouts from the tertiary (above high school) system – Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.
These two individuals, both highly successful, understood our culture, learned how to communicate, and mastered how to think. Was it pure luck or was it having the right skill set when the opportunity arose?
Probably some of both. And was it our education system through age 18 or our culture (probably poorly defined) that made them ready for the opportunity? Probably both get some credit.
Return to the economic policy argument. While we can (maybe) identify what we need to teach, can we, as a community or government entity afford it? In part one of this series, a selfish return and a societal return to education by Bryan Caplan were introduced.
Caplan is a professor of economics and in his modelling analysis found that the only bubbles that economically benefit from the education system are the good, better and above students and society is always losing economically.
In the most previous column we saw that secondary education arrived in 1910 and that in 1965 many high school programs included skill development in “technical” employment areas.
And today the growth in post-secondary (tertiary) education is far exceeding population growth.
Yet we see continually rising costs, both individually and societally, that exceed more general economic cost growth. If it continues unabated, are we facing societal failure? Are there any potential solutions?
Till next time….
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