Monday, May 30, 2011

Ben Franklin Would Not Be Possible Today

We all know that Benjamin Franklin is one of these amazing people that printed almanacs, made scientific findings, invented things that are still used today, and was a skilled diplomat.

Did he go to college?


While schooling is great, isn't it a bit sad that the net effect is that it ends up pigeon holing a person into pursuit?

Today, Ben Franklin would have had to either:

1.  Rot away in an engineering or science program for well over a decade. In the meantime, he would have to keep his head down and work as a minion on whatever the professors were researching before he was allowed to develop his own study for his final project.

2.   Go to college, then apply to the State Department for the opportunity to become a diplomat and go through a series of objective tests and an intense background check before they sent him off to work as a low-level gopher in Sri Lanka so that he could "pay his dues" for a few years before being sent to a more important country.

3.  Work as a columnist for a podunk paper and writing about the local corn festival because he didn't have the Ivy League education to get a job with CNN or the New York Times.

Then, of course, whatever career path he went in meant that everything else would be relegated to "hobby" status. 

If he ended up being a scientist, he'd probably have a blog on the state of the world.  If he was compelling enough, he might end up on the radio or on TV.  Since he would have no direct ties to what was going on in Washington as he gave up his political pursuits to focus upon a scientific career, he might rise to the rank of "talking head nut ball" like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Al Franken, or Michael Moore.  If he was vocal in the wrong way, he may end up on the FBI watch list.

If he ended up being a politician, then surely nobody would come within 1,000 feet of whatever he invented.  Seriously, can you think of anything in your home that you used that was personally invented by John F. Kennedy? If he had unveiled a machine that turned all garbage into usable potting soil within 30 minutes, how excited would you be to purchase such an item knowing that this was something he was tinkering around with on the weekends?  Women copied his wife's fashion, but that's about as far as people are willing to go as far as putting their trust in politicians to improve their daily lives. 

....and when you think about it, it's kind of weird that we don't use politician-made inventions.  Think of all of the stuff invented in ancient Greece and Rome that were instituted by visionary leaders...or, at the very least, they had a good eye if someone came up with something good. Today, if President Obama published his recipe for Buffalo Wings, it would certainly not catch fire with the populace regardless of how tasty they turned out.  It's almost like we expect a great level of incompetence from the people who lead the free world.

"I went to Harvard, was a Rhode's Scholar, and I helped come up with a peace plan for Eastern Europe."

"Nope, sorry.  I will use a McCormick's seasoning packet before I use your recipe for four alarm chili."

Oh well.  Here's to you, Ben Franklin! 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

These are the people who need to be helped

Just the other day, a friend of a friend was telling me about said friend (we shall call her "amiga" for shorthand), that barely has a high school education and has not been in the workforce because she had been a stay at home mom.  However, a question arose about whether this lady should go to school and become something like a dental hygienist.  This person is otherwise screwed because they don't have any job skills and they can't rely upon nepotism.  While large cities like NYC have a strata of incomes, most other places resemble a third world nation.  You have a few people who have good jobs, while everyone else is busing tables at the Luby's.  There are some in-between jobs like being a nurse's assistant that require some additional training that a person normally can't receive in high school.  While those jobs offer some stability and full-time employment prospects, the trade off is that these people do not earn much more than a cashier (especially when you consider that they will now have student loan debt).  This creates a quandary where they are perched precariously on a ledge, and one tiny slip could have the student loan ghosts haunting the fuck out of you for the rest of your life and eating away what financial benefit the person would have gained in even bothering to go to school.

I thought about it. 

Honestly, we all know that you need some sort of training to have some job skills that don't involve being a cashier for the rest of eternity.  But what options are there for the poor? 

The jobs I'm thinking of require some training, but the wages aren't that amazing in spite of the fact that you forked out a few grand for schooling.  Naturally, you would have to get a loan.  However, we all know what happens the minute that something happens and you miss payments.  Suddenly, that piddling amount of money balloons in a way that would make a loan shark in the Ukraine smile.  Now, that debtor is turning tricks in a Turkish brothel and will be left paying the ever-expanding loan to their handlers until they are all clapped out and past menopause.

So, I seriously sat there and wondered if it would be worth the risk for such a person to go to school.  Sure, they're going to make shit working as a cashier, but if they show up and do their job for a few months and act motivated, you'd think they'd at least be whisked off to Hamburger U and become a manager.

That's when I started to reflect upon how the school system is truly failing its students.

Somewhere along the way, someone got the idea into their noggin that high school should simply be a preparatory institution to go onto other schooling.  In Europe, they divert students into one of two tracts.  They'll either put them on the university tract, or they send them off to learn a trade.

People in the Oprah Winfrey age can't handle this.  Saying that the child needs to learn a trade is like saying that this child is never going to be President.  Somebody is telling that child "no," and by golly, we should know better than to tell that child "no!"  We have irreparably crushed that child into thinking they are worthless if we don't demand that they take classes where they can read poetry.

They think that we can cram every last child into the few computer programming, doctor, lawyer, and teacher job, regardless of their abilities.  However, what ends up happening instead is that the school system ends up prolonging the agony where they puke out an 18 year old who is incapable of simply walking into a dental hygienist job and now must find money that they don't have to pay for additional schooling. 

How many more students would we keep in high school if the schools offered free training in a trade?  How many students look around them and see that John, who dropped out of school in the 10th grade, is working the exact same job as Mark, who actually graduated with a diploma?

Nobody wants to actually sit down with these people and learn what is wrong.  They're the same set that think that teenage pregnancy is being glorified because these women were placed in front of a camera--never mind that teenagers were popping out babies for centuries before this show came along.  They're the same people who thought that keeping rap music off of the radio would make gangs go away.

The sheer fact that so many students don't finish high school should be a big enough clue that the current system isn't working.  Yet, we continue to press onward in a fantasy that every single child will eventually graduate from college in the same way that we choose to believe that we can completely eradicate teenage sex and underage drinking. 

Maybe Oprahfication is responsible for the lack of technical training.  Sometimes, I wonder if its simply cheaper for the school to not offer technical training in the way way that its great business for law schools to pack as many people into a classroom and charge them out the wazoo.  Instead, they can make the colleges happy by making sure that their territory isn't encroached upon.  If that's the case, surely we can just bus the high school students over to the community college and let them take those same classes on the taxpayer dime.