Thought leader or science fiction writer – which is it

We are having some remodeling done and I had to move my bookcase. I must admit I seldom read a book with actual pages anymore and removing and then reshelving the books provided a walk down memory lane. So many of the books had shaped ideas I found very stimulating.

Here is a sampling from the top shelf:

  • Convergence culture
  • Smart mobs
  • The virtual community
  • Weaving the web
  • The wealth of networks
  • Got game
  • Free: The future of a radical price

Here is the thing about this collection. Pretty much all promised a future that has not been realized and now seems a type of idealism that for one reason or another has been lost.

These books were written by great writers with a view of the possible that seemed very probable. They were great thought leaders. When applied in education, the label of thought leader has started to rub me the wrong way. Too often, it seems these folks make their way by telling the rest of us what we have missed and what we should be doing to get us from here to there. These folks have the innovators mindset, hack this or that, or act like pirates. I must admit the pirate thing still kind of baffles me.

I suppose I am old fashioned or cautious, but I prefer a mix of data with my innovation. The thoughts pretty much are the equivalent of hypotheses and as a researcher, I can tell you with certainty that not every creative idea gets published, nor should it.

On the second shelf, I found another book – The big switch. (Who controls the Internet would work as an alternative.) This book by a different thought leader explains why the other thought leaders were wrong. The idealism of learning from each other, learning through sharing, and combining our capabilities (blogs and wikis) has been subverted by the big players (the media companies, ISPs) and our own lack of willingness to make personal contributions. Remember the promise of the Read/Write web? Probably not. Bloggers and free content creators no more, there is also the opportunity for the innovators to make a buck by writing or talking about innovation. Interesting ideas are fun and science fiction writers have been offering such ideas for nearly as long as books have been printed. Sometimes their ideas resemble what becomes the future but no one holds them to their visions.

Just a free thought to consider

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Like Alice’s Restaurant – Amazon provides anything you want

Fake Coyote – Cindy purchased two from Amazon. We have a goose problem at our lake place. Nice lawn with easy access to the lake can bring geese. We have tried everything we can think of short of a shotgun to get rid of them. No luck so far. Cindy read that coyote decoys would do the trick so she bought two. The decoys come rolled up and the directions said that you should stuff them with something (I used towels) and place them in the sun for a couple of hours to get them to take on a more natural shape. I position this one on top of the grill on my deck. For the unprepared, I am thinking waking up in the middle of the night and looking out on the deck might cause quite a reaction.

[Alice’s Restaurant – for young folks with have lived a sheltered life]

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Dealing with things you think are wrong

I post frequently about my frustration with what I consider the flawed and dangerous policies of the Trump administration and some specific Republican positions that are very much in contradiction to my personal value system. The Trump and Republican health care is probably the best example. Access to health care is simply something I cannot accept to any who need it. My life experiences have provided concrete examples of how health care is not equitable.

We have good friends we became acquainted with in Russia and who later moved to the U.S.. We do not talk politics with them a lot, but you hang out with folks long enough and you begin to pick up on things.

Our friends are concerned about me and my level of frustration. Cindy tried to explain that this is just the way I am. I assume problems can be addressed and I have always been persistent. To ignore problems would eat me up. Our Russian friends felt they had no chance to make changes and so found ways to live their lives despite their circumstances. Of course, they were willing to leave their jobs, home, and country to move here. People sometimes joke about moving to Canada. Few have the courage to take this risk and I see their way of responding to what they perceived as injustices as a far stronger and more courageous reaction than my own.

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Contributions required of all

I have been thinking about how I might best convey my attitudes toward affordable health care. What type of analogy offers the best way to explain through comparison why I believe all Americans deserve to be offered a way to have health insurance and why all must contribute? There are certainly other services that are provided to all and all are asked to support. It might be argued in a Maslow kind of way that health care – life and death – is a more basic need than at least some of these other services.

The most obvious comparison that comes to mind is K-12 education. All are provided access to a K-12 education no matter the resources of their care givers or the cost to meet basic individual needs. Not all of those who must contribute have children in need of this service. Some never had children and many have no present need. We somehow have decided the collective benefit is worth the imposed requirement. We do not shy away from providing the most expensive services to those who we know will never be able to pay back the resources that have been invested in them. We make these commitments because these are values we support and because we understand that life is not always fair. This is not about business. This is not able allowing the market to find a way. This is about all of us accepting a responsibility to allow each individual to receive a basic “level of coverage”.

Why should health care be different? Why don’t we start from what Trump proposed, but what we now recognize as hollow promises? Why are we willing to ignore the health needs of some because their personal needs are more expensive? Why are we willing to put individuals at risk because their life circumstances have prevented them from acquiring a level of income so many of us take for granted and somehow attribute entirely to our own effort? I cannot answer these questions because I assume I have

I cannot answer these questions because I assume I must accept certain responsibilities and the government has to be the mechanism through which such responsibilities must be executed. Think of health care as a type of tax if you must. Taxes are simply the way we cover the cost of things we value for the common good. The math is not that hard and the solutions are there. If every business and each individual cannot be counted on to contribute to the common good by purchasing insurance, then the government needs to take on this responsibility through taxation.

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Glassheim on Health Insurance

This is likely the first time I have forwarded an article from the Grand Forks Herald. However, I do keep up with North Dakota issues through the Herald and this opinion piece is so consistent with my own thinking, I thought I would post it here. Glassheim outlines what I would argue is the Democratic position (or at least Glassheim as a Democrat) on health insurance.

Glassheim is a long time state legislator from Grand Forks who has run for national office. The odds of a Dem from ND being successful at the national level is fairly remote, but Glassheim has always had the capacity to present important issues in a lucid fashion.

 

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When logic fails, talk slower

Various sources have recently decided to contest the value of a college education. For example, consider the following excerpt from Philly.com (The Inquirer). The title – Want to fix America’s Political Divide? Fix the colleges. As always, I suggest you read the entire article. More examples of differences associated with education are included.

The more I’ve covered about American politics in the 21st Century, the more I see that its No. 1 driving force is anger and resentment. And nothing seems to fuel that divide more than the topic of education and how we perceive it — especially at the college level. The evidence is hiding in plain sight. Nothing drove the changes in the American electorate that, for better or worse, gave us President Trump more than level of educational attainment: Trump and his politics of rage surged among white men lacking a college degree, and conversely — while it’s been largely ignored by the pundits — Hillary Clinton killed it in communities with high levels of college education like Philadelphia’s Main Line, where she even outperformed her Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.

As the title proposes, the article proposes there is some fault in higher education that has created the present acrimony present between Republicans and Democrats. This divide is assumed to be a bad thing (the outcome is bad). The logic then argues that since college educated voted so strongly democratic and those without this level of education. education must contribute to this divide. Therefore, there must be something wrong with education.

The question should be. What possible interpretations are there for these connected statements and is the one advanced by the writer the most feasible. For example, what about the conclusion that the present level of animosity is bad. Is it also possible that the present level of animosity represents an appropriate reaction to the election of a candidate who generates strong differences of opinion on important issues? Should one not be outraged with a decision that is perceived to promote future actions that are unethical and unequitable. The assumption that higher ed must be at fault because voting patterns could be predicted from the level of education of voters assumes there is something wrong with the choices made. I am guessing the argument is not that educated people should have made a different choice (how would this be justified), but that they have now reacted so strongly. If the present outcome predicts inequities and unethical treatment, why is a negative reaction not appropriate even if others are willing to accept or understand that this will happen?

I truthfully cannot remember an election that has generated the level of anger that this election has. If you disagree, then that disagreement might be the starting point for a different discussion. If you do agree, the inconsistency represented by the 2016 case from earlier elections would somehow have to be explained by some hidden consistency. Why are more educated individuals reacting in a different way to Trump than to the Bushes, etc.? What makes this election different and how would that be somehow related to education?

Not all college profs are liberals, but I suppose the majority are. Higher education does tend to promote certain values and positions. A society that gives all a fair chance (equity) would be an example. I would guess that most college profs would also endorse the position that all citizens deserve a reasonable level of health care. Most would also propose the value of a meritocracy such that individuals have a reasonable chance at life success based on skill and hard work and see a reasonable society assuring that the conditions necessary for this to be the case to be provided (related to such issues as health care, support for education, taking actions based on income disparities that are not the fault of the individual, etc.). Educators tend to promote equal treatment without regard to race, sex, religion, characteristics of parents, etc. and see a responsibility of government as assuring that these conditions are met. While educators disagree on many things, there is certainly an expectation that the values I list here are satisfied. How these values are addressed might vary, but support for these values is likely to come through in instruction.

I would hope most professors avoid the discussion of candidates or parties, but I would encourage their discussion of issues and values. So, I would expect those teaching science to argue that humans are influencing climate change is the dominant position among scientists collecting data on this issue. If this is what the research shows, this is what you teach. I would expect those teaching courses in social sciences and humanities to address issues of the causes and consequences of inequities in society and what might be done to remedy these problems. If this is what the research shows, this is what you teach. If the consequences of learning about these things causes one to be labeled a liberal and to vote in a predictable way, I think that being a liberal must be the thing to be and voting as such individuals vote is the thing to do. If an election is unique in being shaped by such differences, I don’t see the reaction to the election as a problem resulting from being educated. I would blame it on a lack of knowledge and values that I must reject.

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Zuckerberg visits North Dakota

Mark Zuckerberg does some very interesting things as a self-directed learner. One year he read a book every two weeks. I tried to keep up for a while. Many of the books just did not interest me and while I did read some I was unable to keep up. I know he spent some time learning Mandarin and gave a speech in the language. Here I decided he was clearly a better man than I and did not even give this a try. Now, he is visiting one city in each state. I have visited every state, but this has been across my entire lifetime. I have even spent some time writing about my more recent travels and wish I could find the time to include my earlier comments with my more recent travel blog. He hopes to learn about people and their interests from his observations. Curiosity is obviously important to big thinkers and those who have the means to act on what they can observe.

Zuckerberg has visited North Dakota and recently posted his observations. Mark’s choice in North Dakota was Williston as a way to learn about fracking. You have to admire Zuckerberg’s passion and openness. It is one thing to travel and observe, but I find it impressive that he then takes the time to write about what he learned and what he thought. He takes in a lot and describes some interesting details of how the ebb and flow of oil extraction has influenced the local economy and way of life. He pulls no punches and includes his thoughts on the importance of clean energy as a way to address climate change.

Like many blogs, this collection of observations is worth following.

[in Minnesota Zuckerberg met with Somali refugees and played a little hockey]

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You can run, but …

A country that longs for the past is poorly suited to address the trends that are inevitably shaping the future. The “make America great” folks are living a fantasy and those who are most clueless are being misled by others willing to perpetuate this illusion for personal gain. The mantra sounds fine, but it translates as international isolationism and internal policies that create rather than curb inequities. This promotion of yesterday is even less defensible when it works to benefit certain individuals at the expense of others. This is the point at which perpetuating fantasies is immoral.

Here are the trends I see as important.

  1. Growing world-wide population.
  2. Aging populations in most countries
  3. Climate change
  4. Advances in technology are replacing many jobs at present wages
  5. Globalization – interdependence of economies

Many of these trends are inconvenient for a country that has long had great advantages, but the trends cannot be ignored. My life experiences have been mainly as an educator heavily focused on technology and I tend to see the role both of these factors play as both responsible for both problems (if you believe the U.S. inherently deserves special advantages) and solutions. Technology ignores the boundaries of distance and borders. Technology promotes educational experiences and allows talented and motivated individuals no matter where they are located to perform work with equal skill and often at a lower cost. Other countries have what might be described as an advantage in that merit is often promoted over equity in education, but the consequence is that those who make it through such systems are quite competitive. Isolation will not discourage such practices and will not lessen the short-term economic disadvantages.

I present the trends I see without thorough analysis. I see the list as fact based, but complex and without obvious solutions. The one point these facts do point to is the need to be realistic about the need for change. Focusing on coal or oil and not renewable energy seems unproductive. Failing to address health care realities with an aging population seems foolish. Withholding resources from education when future work requires more and more diverse skills seems short sighted.

These are not challenges without opportunities. What is wrong with more research and more training and more jobs in health care or renewable energy? What is wrong with investing more in educational experiences that prepare learners for a more sophisticated world and that provide on-going experiences suited to a far more rapid pace of change? What is wrong with an approach, probably government moderated, that allows health care for all? What is wrong with acknowledging that life in this country does not allow all to have an equal chance at success and doing something about it?

 

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The predictable turbulence as the wave roles through

Some of these ideas (UW Prof predicts Trump win) remind me of observations Toffler made some decades ago in the Third Wave. He notes that significant advances bring a period of disruption and the romanticization of the good old days. Typically, the good old days were not actually that good and the advances made have momentum for valid reasons. Changes this country faces such as climate change, increasing globalization, and the increasing diversity of the U.S. threaten the way many have grown to see their personal worlds. The thing is, their personal worlds are not reality and the examples they allow to influence their beliefs are not consistent with statistical trends that argue otherwise. This issue has become more problematic as political leaders promote falsehoods without remorse. Anxiety is understandable, but resistance to inevitable pressures because many think they would rather live in the past slows productive adaptations and ignores opportunities. Clean energy will provide employment opportunity. New ideas from different cultures and bright minds not jaded by entitlements or the priority of personal wealth will drive advances.

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On chickens and turtles

Most of my recent posts have had a political focus so I decided it was about time to take on a topic of greater and deeper importance.

I have been told that great advances occur not so much from answering difficult questions, but from discovering difficult questions that need to be answered. For example, many folks have concentrated on the question of why the chicken crossed the road. I was driving through the woods of Wisconsin and it occurred to me that this was not a particularly novel or important question. I try to be open to insights from my surroundings and soon my surroundings suggested a much more novel question.

Why do turtles cross the road? I mean turtles are far slower than chickens and even the most jaded driver must notice far more smashed turtles than smashed chickens. Who really cares about why chickens cross the road? Most of them make it.

So having established a more pressing question through sheer creativity, I turned to Google in search of answers. It turns out that while few seem to ask this question, Google can provide the answer.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, turtles cross the road looking for sex. I should have known. Male turtles continually search for willing partners and some may be in the pond on the other side of the road.

There you have it. A question more important than the one about the chicken and even an answer.

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