Posted in Educational Reform

A Solved Problem

“Remember this picture: this is a picture of students in Guinea reading their textbooks at the airport, because this was the only place where they could get light at night to do their schoolwork. It’s a solved technical problem to generate electricity and get it to homes so that students don’t have to go sit at the airport to read their books, and it’s a solved social problem to create rules that can lead to the implementation of those technical systems…

As you run up against the inevitable reactions…, as you think about all of those objections, think about explaining it to one of these kids and telling them why ‘we think the best solution is for you to spend as long as it takes, maybe another thousand years…to wait for your own internal systems of rules to somehow change so that you can get access to the things we take for granted’.”

Paul Romer, “A Theory of History, With an Application

Another example of a solved problem: how to be healthy and live a long life. What we need is not more advanced medical technology, but effective implementation of known principles.

How many problems can you spot around you that have already been solved (somewhere)? I wager that the majority of problems currently identified have been solved by someone, or even many someones. Solving them in principle isn’t the same thing as fixing them for good, though. That’s an implementation problem, which is the next higher order of challenge.

Many, if not most, identified problems already have known solutions. Implementing them is the challenge that is most worthy of our creative attention. That, and identifying new problems.

Posted in Books, Educational Reform, Inspiration

Robert Fuller on Rankism and Dignitarianism in Schools

This is a transcribed excerpt from a talk given by Robert Fuller, author of Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank. The full talk and summary are available on Seminars About Long Term Thinking.

“[Once you become aware of rankism], you begin to catch yourself in rankist acts.  Acts of superciliousness, of domineering, of denigration, of ridicule, of sneering.  You catch yourself acting in a way that is a damaging assertion of presumed rank.

Why do we do this?  I think we do it because we are predators.  We are great predators, the best the world has ever seen…  We have a predatory history, and we wouldn’t have gotten this far without it.

Now we’re at a stage where opportunities for cooperation abound if we can retire our predaciousness…Countries that have done it…have turned out to be more powerful than countries that still celebrate predation, because they enlist more loyalty, more partnership, more cooperation, more initiative, more creativity.

I think the same will hold true at the scale of companies, hospitals, and most of all, schools.  Schools are places where people go expecting to be humiliated.  Half the kids in school hate it.  This is a tremendous indictment of what is the most important function in society…

You only get a chance twice a century to change education, and it has to ride piggyback on other movements. The institutions of education are so profoundly rankist, that it’s like being a black person in the south and complaining about something: you just get lynched, figuratively: you don’t get tenure.

The situation in our schools today–they’ll be the last to catch on, because they’re so self-satisfied about their marvelous record in civil rights, in overcoming racism and sexism and so on–but rankism is their achilles heel.

[This is] where it is that academics are going to have to face the music eventually, and realize that from kindergarten through graduate school, most students are not doing half as well as they could if we could pull the systemic humiliation and ridicule, the elitism, out of the system.

This has nothing to do with excellence.  You can have excellence, you can celebrate it, without the ridicule, without the disdain, without the snobbery, without the obfuscation that characterizes so much of higher education.

A dignitarian movement simply insists that regardless of rank, every human being has equal dignity.”