Posts Tagged education

Why don’t we Americans value education anymore?

I think the US has stopped valuing education to a large extent. Sure, we still ask for a degree on all kinds of paperwork and jobs. But in reality we don’t value those credentials much. How did we get to this point? I have a (untested) theory.

When looking to hire people, I see a lot of resume’s and almost all of them have some kind of degree. And really, the degree’s don’t matter. Except for a few key schools, candidate without degrees are actually more interesting, since they are taking (or took) a risk to get into the pool.

I can imagine at some point in the past a B.S. or M.S. on a resume indicated a certain level of skill, and some assumptions about what a person would know, or could do. But not anymore. I know many college freshman (as interns or hires) who know or do better than people with 3-4 years more experience than regular interviewee’s with C.S. degrees. Not to name names, but knowing someone went through Drexel’s Co-Op system (which is an amazing system) is a much better indication of young success than a degree from most other colleges. Most degrees don’t indicate any level of skill, or do well to predict workplace success.

The lions share of blame falls to the college/university system themselves. In a hunt for money to build better buildings universities have taken a lot of crap, and put out a lot of crap. It has happened since most colleges are lusting after lucre to become real-estate moguls, by leveraged on sub-market credit of student loans. Teachers don’t get raises, but old buildings get razed then rebuilt. But I digress.

In order to grow, much of higher education have dropped the bar so low, it’s a tripping hazard. In the universal conflict between ‘excellent’ and ‘big’ they chose big, and lowered their standards. Lowering their standards for a short term boost is dragging themselves down, and undermining the trust they use to have in American culture. I think most modern unions suffer from the same problem. The same dynamic has killed consumer product companies, and it can kill whole sectors by destroying trust.

We don’t value higher education, because it has stopped valuing itself.

edited for clarity 2015-01-18

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Philadelphia Student Union House Party

A strong community of active, engaged adults tends to grow out of active and engaged youth, amirite? And as bad as our school systems are doing in the US, and Philadelphia specifically, I’m 100% for *almost any* organization apprentices students to get engaged, and gives them real world experience in making a difference and making things happen.

Which is why I feel obligated an an instigator, to mention the Philly Student Union (PSU) house party coming up on May 6th. PSU is an youth lead organization working for better education in the Philadelphia area. And, of course, that creates life-long learners and leaders as a side effect.

It’s obvious, but I’m going to have to say it. Intelligent, engaged, and knowledgeable people are the key to a better future, and a better world now. If you want to support that happening, supporting PSU is a good place to start. If you want to get an invite to the West Philly PSU House Party on May 6th, drop me a comment, and I’ll send one of my invite cards your way.

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The drift away from Science

This is just a quick brain dump, and I will be the first to admit that this is not the best researched post you will see. None the less, here it is. I have a feeling that the USA is drifting away from it’s relationship with reality. My argument winds around a bit, so follow along for a minute, and I’ll get to the core of the idea.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) is largely the work of ‘what is’ vs. ‘what we hope is’ or ‘what our best guess is’. Those fields build theories and ideas either to refine our understanding of how the world really works, or they are going about build new things based on the best available understand of how things work. In short, those professions are the sanity check professions.

And our country is woefully out of touch with that sanity check. Our rankings on education are slipping, and more and more of our political decisions are driven by profit or ideology, rather than well researched facts(pdf). We are drifting away from reality as a society, and I think one of the causes of that, is the lack of a solid debunking mindset, which most people are exposed to through science.

do we fix this? How do we steer this country towards making good decisions based on facts, and make a culture deals with reality, rather than one that tries to ignore the statistics, and go with truthiness? I think the one and only answer for that is better education, across the board. I have a bad feeling we are not going to do that, we are not going to make education a priority as a country.

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I was invited to give a talk on “Hackerspaces, Distributed Projects, and why they win” for Philadelphia Area Computer Society on Saturday. PACS is a pretty interesting crew, from my point of view as an urban hacker/coder. For one, their meetings are held out in Willow Grove PA, which is way north in the suburbs. They hold them at the Giant Food Community Center, which is a pretty nice facility located above their Willow Grove store. The second is that the crowd there, because of location and target, has almost zero of the overlap with the city centric tech crew I know. There were two people I knew reasonably well there, out of 70-80 people. Which gets to point 3, which is that it’s a big crowd of people that can (and do) show up for one Saturday a month of learning new technology.

My talk on Hackerspaces, Distributed Projects, and Why They Win (PPT link) went over pretty well. I ended up talking a lot more about individual spaces, and introducing the ideas than I expected. It is hard at times to talk about the basic ideas that I live based on. Things like:

  • Open Source is becoming the new normal.
  • good programmers do programming because it is fun (Linus)
  • Forking projects is usually good.
  • We need to compete with our collaborators, and collaborate with out competitors.

If you want to read more about my crazy ideas, and what comes out of applying them, you can check out the powerpoint presentation (and the notes). It was a great talk, and a great reception to it, and I stuck around to contribute to the Security SIG as long as I was there. I’m going to work on getting a hackers/makers SIG as well, once my life calms down.

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