10 June, 2013

My Inconvenient Truth

I worry about our future. I worry about my future.

The campus is becoming busy again, and as I walked to my office a few days ago, I couldn't help but hear a class having lots of fun. It was the same program as last year when I overheard part of a lecture that stopped me in my tracks. I didn’t know the instructor, but I knew he was teaching a group of middle school students who, given the estimates of their abilities, were at risk of becoming undereducated due to one or more environmental factors. It’s a great program with a tremendous success rate – genuinely transformational for these young people.

The lecture was on the metric system, and a few of the basic unit names had been written on the board. Meter. Centimeter. Kilometer. Millimeter. I guess they were focusing on units of length. After all, everyone is a specialist these days.

Question: What unit would I use to describe the size of my foot? Answer: Inches. What the fractals! This is actually when I stopped walking – thinking this was going to be good. Where that response came from I had no idea, but I guess feet are made up of inches. Right? BUT they are picking from the list of four metric units on the board, and it’s not on that list. Oh, my.

Next question: What unit would I use to describe how far it is from here to the cafeteria? That would be two buildings over; I see it right out my window. Answer: Kilometers. I continued on to my office thinking sad thoughts and not wanting to listen to the teacher have a melt down.

Sad thoughts, you say? Yes, indeed. The metric system is not complicated after all. In fact, it is far simpler that the US Customary System - often called the American System because we are just about the only ones in the world who use it.

Yet we don’t change because we are too lazy to learn something new. It would be inconvenient, and if there is one thing the typical American doesn’t want, it is to be inconvenienced. We have raised several generations now who don’t get that there is joy to be derived from “learning a difficult thing well.” Okay. I understand that this is difficult to appreciate, but with metrics, we’re talking about learning a simple thing. And one that would actually make our lives easier. Unfortunately, many in our younger generations seem to think education is a joke, that it is not worthy of genuine effort, and that everything’s gonna be alright. Don’t worry - about a ting - every little ting - gonna be alright.

Well, I’m worrying. I’m worrying because I need these young people to have jobs. I’ll be retiring in the next year or so, and I’ve been paying into the Social Security system since my first summer job in the early 1960s. Yes, I’m worrying - because I need these young people to have jobs so that their FICA contributions can help keep my benefits coming. If they can't embrace the fact that learning is a good thing and if we can't embrace the metric system, my benefits are ultimately in jeopardy.
I also worry that I’ve become so discouraged about the demise of a learning ethic in this country that whether young people pay their Social Security taxes may be all I really do care about. I don't want to be that person, and I'm not there yet.