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The Mexico Ledger - Mexico, MO
Opinion from the technical trenches.
Futurework 2...
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About this blog
By Robert Handley
Kirksville native, laborer, filmmaker, sailor, technologist. I've had an interest in how things work since childhood and today making things work is my job description. I'm an IT generalist/consultant and database developer, and for the last ...
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Please Stay Tuned...
Kirksville native, laborer, filmmaker, sailor, technologist. I've had an interest in how things work since childhood and today making things work is my job description. I'm an IT generalist/consultant and database developer, and for the last several years I've concentrated on simplifying and securing small business technology. I intend that complexity stay inside the machine, and that your experience outside it be productive and pleasant. When you make technology decisions there are many sources for information and advice, but it's sometimes overwhelming to sift through. So I'll render fact, opinion and personal experience into palatable portions that I hope you'll find helpful. I'm not a tech evangelist, rather I play a balancing act, because it's easy to collect a closet full of expensive, planet killing junk. Please stay tuned...
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July 22, 2012 12:01 a.m.



 



Acknowledgment to my readers (both of them) who remind that I'm late with this post.



 




As a professional geek I'm sometimes engaged to help a stranger with technical problems. I get really bugged by persons with less knowledge interrupting the occasional, ad hoc tech support session (public WiFi connection problems, for instance). The interloper's computer turned on and ran, so they self-assume enough experience to interrupt my deliberate methodology. I realize there are many better technologists than I, so if I fail the interloper is invited to try. Similarly, I apologize to educators and innovators who have considered futurework with far greater clarity and background than I.    




 




Futurework obsesses me like an ear worm. One reason I'm late with this post is that I didn’t fully appreciate the number of persons already working with that word specifically and the broad implications generally. Our nation, and an astonishing list of nation-competitors, are bound to technology as life is bound to blood. American competitiveness depends on how rapidly diminishing public revenues are invested. Can we afford guns and butter?




 




There was an epoch wherein the pursuit of an undergraduate education might actually be career related (imagine that). The decision tree began in high school, wherein someone determined our aptitudes and assessed scholastic achievement. Then off to the armed services, trade school/associate degree or college. Notwithstanding the price of our most prestigious institutions, a self-resourced college education was possible. 




 




This was a temporary delusion, even if it lasted 50(?) or more years. Robotics eventually ate manufacturing jobs for lunch, eroding the working (aka middle) class, while inflation increased faster than wages. The government and ruling constituency pretends that American education and intellectual superiority will continue by momentum alone, as if our government hasn't been fiddling while Rome burns.




 




I don't understand why Americans resist investment in educational assets. We bite the hand that feeds us when starving public institutions that provided post-industrial, information age growth. Science, technology, engineering and math (aka STEM) are the future employment islands. Even though anticipating this trend governent and greed force stalemate, amplifying class divisions in our uniquely American, supposedly egalitarian system. We've spawned a fresh crop of haves, wants, have-nots and impossibly indebted.




 




Contemporary haves may be partially or entirely supported by their parents or other benevolent dictator. They wait out a stagnant job market, living at home, perhaps acquiring other degrees, hoping that there will eventually be some lucky convergence of need and demand. In any case they’re not walking, starving and/or leaving undergraduate school burdened with impossible debt. 




 




That brings us to wants and have-nots, sometimes indistinguishable. Wants and have-nots are the same people they’ve always been, but instead of comprising a smaller percentage of the student population, their genre has exploded. Wants and have-nots scour diminishing opportunities for education because there is no benevolent dictator, at least one holding cash. So good luck.




 




Of course wants and have-nots exist in every generation. My first African American pal was sent to Truman by his church, a small, completely black storefront upgrade in the Quad Cities area. We were both music majors, I was a have with modest talent, John was musician extraordinaire, strong academic and profound have-not. He refined keyboard chops playing a church owned Hammond B3 organ beginning at age six. There wasn't a human being in the college music department, teacher or student, that could touch him for improvisational skill and style. 




 




Tuition cost was meaningless to me, because it was inexpensive and subsidized. But to John the same cost was a four year, full-on struggle (he returned to the Quad Cities by bus once/month to play, excite and inspire, so that the impoverished congregation would pass a special plate for John's school expenses). Paradoxically, shamefully, disproportionately, rudely, John was held back just before graduation because he struggled with sight reading ancient, white people's music. John's keyboard skills were exceptional, brilliant. That he should be turned away because of this antique, standardized deficiency still irritates. I moved to Detroit and lost track of John, but the memory of his crushing demoralization remains.




 




Flash forward to today: Different friends, Alex and Eve, both white, middle (struggling?) class, intellectually capable and academically accomplished. Alex acquired a bachelor's degree in political science, Eve a bachelor's in psychology, specializing in special needs children. They're getting married next month, with a combined student loan debt of $180,000. Neither can find a job, they are impossibly indebted.




 




I observe a lot of lip service proffered that America esclate to a degreed workforce, but the lips are usually fastened to the faces of already successful academics. They cite tired projections based on ten (or more) years of economic history instead of the recent chaos, like the last four, and they can show graphs indicating higher lifetime income commensurate with degree achievement to prove it. 




 




Tell Alex and Eve that story, try to encourage they acquire more education and debt. They'll laugh in your face, they are radicalized, they no longer believe in the system. They could screw the system by borrowing even more, knowing they have no intention of paying the debt down. After all, student debt might be forgiven, the government bailed out banks, surly Jamie Dimon will be locked up forever before punishing Alex and Eve… right? 




 




Perhaps not. Alex and Eve's student debt will be difficult to forgive or negotiate because it was sold and transferred the minute they inked the dotted line. As with most loans dished out in our current financial fiasco, their paper disappeared into the securitization machine that renders history and/or future action impossible. Alex, Eve and their generation (millennials generally?) stand little or no chance of finding employment proportional to their debt. They may never own a home, not that ownership is any hot proposition in 2012. 




 




Debt is serious, debt can kill. We're in deep now, educational institutions and government propagandists can't hide it. Citizens must stand up and take charge of the future. If our politicians aren't looking forward they are the problem. If their votes are being purchased by big money they are despicable.




 




So futurework is really a subset of several forces: Education funding dries up, bridges, dams and the power grid decay (even when a temporary source of struggling class income) while military spending and government waste rockets ahead of revenue. Great swaths of our population choose between medicine or meals (or none) while the presumed US advantages of greatness dissolve, like tears in the rain.




 




We don't encourage innovation any longer because we won't pay for it. So what are intelligent, eager wannabe students to do in the when playing with a stacked deck? 




 




Innovate. Even if the skills of entrapuenrship and innovation are missing in K-12 education, go innovate anyhow. At home, or with a few friends. Innovate with what knowledge or education background? That would be with free, online coursework offered by MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Yale and many others, but with no tuition, no debt and no stifling, standardized advice. Education may retool, is retooling, even if the current innovation efforts are often crude and flawed. The trend is promising and it's not necessarily about computer labs in antique classrooms or taped lectures with bad audio, it's about Alex, Eve and John hammering away, absorbing, self-educating (what a great skill!), gathering and making information on their own steam. Availability of education may become democratized if we can support viable, online, non-traditional educational opportunities.




 




Perhaps this crop of otherwise wasted genius might even design relevant courseware that will leapfrog current content quality. For instance, how about greater synergy between game theory and knowledge drill? Can't we make education fun, relevant, targeted and affordable? Can't we teach physics with an augmented verion of Angry Birds?




 




Please stay tuned...




 








Feel free to offer topic suggestions.  Commenting on the blog would be great, let’s get some discussions going.  Or, if you don’t want to comment and have a topic suggestion, please email: kdegeneralist@gmail.com




 




My Web Site:  www.thegeneralistweb.com




 




PS:  Please support Wikipedia.








 


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