The Blog

As a newspaper columnist, Nancy Devlin, Ph.D. has written over 700 articles on subjects related to education and parenting. Welcome to her Classroom!

Investing in Our Future

What is the purpose of education?  In another era, you might
have  said:   self  actualization, the need to  know,  and/or  to
become  a  responsible citizen in a  democracy.   Today’s  answer
seems  to be : to make money.  Children born in poverty  feel  no
need for an education because they see no link between  education
and making money.  Education is seen as a lengthy process with no
immediate profit, and it is deemed unessential.

The models the children see are drug dealers who make  quick
profits illegally on other peoples’ misery.  They see managers of
American  industry who make quick profits legally  by  neglecting
the future of their companies.  The first thing these managers do
to  make  themselves  look good is to abolish  the  research  and
development  operations because the profits from such  activities
are  not immediate.  These companies’ products  eventually  become
obsolete  and uncompetitive, but by then the managers have  moved
on, leaving the wreckage behind.

As  far back as Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana  Purchase,  our
government  has taken the long view and invested in  the  future.
Under  President  Franklin  Roosevelt  policies  were  formed  to
support  scientific and technological research. The emphasis  was
on the long-range benefits to society, and those who formed these
policies  placed great faith in the initiative of the  individual
scientists and engineers.

These  policies succeeded.  The present hi-tech  accessories
of  your  daily  life have their roots in  the  basic  scientific
research done generations ago.  The scientists who did that  work
could  not  foresee the practical applications  which  eventually
came  from  it,  nor can present scientists  see  the  long  term
benefits of their labors.

Regrettably,  the  federal government now  is  under  strong
pressure  to abandon the long view.  One example of  this
phenomenon is opposition to funding for the Supercollider.   This
is a very large facility intended to  seek fundamental knowledge about                                                                          the basic  particles  which make  up all matter.  Opponents argue there
is no need to   learn  about  these  very  high  energy  phenomena   because
scientists cannot guarantee any immediate, practical  application
for  this  knowledge.   There is no known  product  that  can  be
developed  from  this research right now which  would  allow  the
United  States  to  keep  its competitive  edge.   There  may  be
products  twenty years in the future, but we have stopped  caring
about future generations.

That  is  an interesting message to give  to  our  children.
Only  learn  about  something  which  makes  money   immediately.
Obviously,  that  means they should not study  to  be  scientists
doing basic research.  There is just no money in it.  If they are
interested  in  science, they can study it but they  should  know
that  the opportunities for true scientific work  are  shrinking.
Science for immediate effective consumption is not science, it is
product development.

American scientists, who already have made a commitment, may
have to go elsewhere to pursue their work.  The United States may
cease to be a fertile environment for people who learn because of
their  great need to know.  During the era of Hitler, the  United
States  benefited by the Brain-Drain of scientists  from  Europe.
If  our  country continues its present policy, we  may  begin  to
experience  a  Brain-Drain in reverse.  “The Ascent  of  Man”  as
described  by Jacob Bronowski will continue, but he cautioned  us
that  there is no assurance that we will participate in  it.   We
may be forfeiting our role in this great adventure because of our
devotion to immediate profit.

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