World Futures: What Do We Need?

World Futures Institute
Last week we looked at culture and a bubble model. An individual bubble becomes part of a larger bubble and must function within its culture – its social behavior and norms. We ended by observing that each bubble must be productive and contribute to the culture. But how does this align with the education system?
In the US education system, and similarly in most other countries, there are three basic levels of education – primary, secondary (ending with high school), and tertiary (post high school). Remember that while some training may be included in the education system, it generally falls outside of formal education. The primary and secondary levels of education, in my assessment, are focused on understanding the culture, communication, and acquiring some level of thinking ability. To be productive, a bubble must have training beyond the formal education system or, as a next step, enter the tertiary level (college) or skills training.
Around 1965, high (secondary) schools included training programs in certain labor fields such as automotive mechanic, plumbing, etc., and graduates were “certified” and recognized as apprentices in specific fields of labor. At that time, however, it was a much simpler world, in every way.
Going back further, secondary schools did not emerge until 1910. Technology has been advancing and the workplace demanded more highly skilled workers (bubbles). Companies could have established internal “secondary” schools, but the larger bubble of society determined that government should do it.
Going from 1910 to 1965 is 55 years. Add another 55 years and you arrive at 2020, not far away. The world continues to change with “knowledge” doubling every 13 months. This exponential growth demands a growing, inherent, and evolving skill set within each individual bubble and bigger bubbles too.
Consider some admittedly “sloppy” research. I looked at US growth percentages from 1969 to 2017:
  • Population 59 percent
  • Associate degrees 190 percent
  • Bachelor degrees 139 percent
  • Master’s degrees 276 percent
  • Doctorate degrees 204 percent
Also, according to a Jan. 27, 2015 Brookings article, 30 percent of US workers must be licensed to perform their jobs. Want to be a travel guide in Nevada? You need over 700 days of training to earn a license.
These numbers imply that just to be an average bubble in society, one needs more and more education and training, including lifelong learning. And the amount of required learning is growing, also perhaps exponentially. Where and how does it peak? Does it or can it asymptotically reach a maximum level of minimum required education to exist and allow the pursuit of happiness?
In part one of this series, I cited Bryan Caplan’s work that builds an economic model of education in which he found the return on investment (ROI) of education to society was negative. If the required content for education continues to grow, can the bubble of society afford it? Or does the demand for additional necessary education and training become solely a student cost burden? If it falls solely to the student, at what point will the student debt burden overwhelm the societal bubble? And remember, public institutions of post-secondary education cannot operate, function and grow based on student tuition alone.
One can raise a counter argument that public support of public post-secondary institutions also supports research and the finding and creation of new knowledge. While I would side with the argument that new knowledge is good, it also fuels the growth of technology. New knowledge provides better understanding and evolution of the culture, but it increases the requirements for more education and training. Or perhaps we need to forget some stuff.
Somewhere around 400 less BC, Plato founded the Academy in Athens and in 330 BC, Alexandria , Egypt became its successor. Plato created the first institution of higher learning. Flash forward to 1956, a mere two millennia later.
My father confronted my high school world history teacher in my presence and asked her why Greek history was being left out. Her response was that there was not enough time in the school year to include everything. I jumped in and pointed out that I had to study World Wars I and II, which occurred after he graduated from high school. Of course, while he was in high school, he was teaching radio at the University of Detroit. With the doubling of knowledge every 13 months, what do you keep and what do you delete? More importantly, recalling Albert Einstein, how do you know where to look it up – unbiasedly?
Looking at education from a personal view, what do you need to know, can you learn it, and can you afford it? Using the societal view, what does everyone need to know, what level of minimum thinking skill is essential, what level of specialization needs to be available, and how can we afford it as a societal bubble?
I am sure you can add to this list of questions, but it is a starting point. Can we 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?
Till next time….
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