Thoughts on Thinking

i282600889611077534._szw1280h1280_One of the best aspects of retirement is that I am able to have lazy mornings without guilt. I appreciate the fact that I don’t have to rush around and tackle traffic on rainy mornings like this one. I stay inside sipping on my tea and viewing Mother Nature’s storms from my windows. Since it is unlikely that anyone will unexpectedly come to my door on a day like today I am able to linger in my pajamas a bit longer than I would if I had places to go and things to accomplish. It’s nice to be able to peruse the online news sources and to get up to date information on the weather. Since I had oral surgery just yesterday I am supposed to take it a bit easy for another twenty four hours or so. Luckily I don’t have to feel compelled to rush off to a job with my pain medication tucked into my purse. I am able to nurse myself in ways that I never did when I was still working. It’s a very nice situation indeed! 

As I read the stories of the day this morning I was attracted by a study from Georgetown University that was a feature in the offerings of one of our local television stations. As is all too often the case these days the information was presented in a slide show. I have to admit that I am totally and completely turned off by this latest trend in journalism. I much prefer reading the original report than one that is presumptuous enough to define the bullet points for me. It is a very lazy way of reporting but it is used so much that I assume that we are now a society of sparse information. We only get the gist of ideas rather than being required to infer for ourselves. It’s little wonder that our young sometimes have so much trouble with critical reading. We have dumbed down the information that we receive on a daily basis. 

I realize that we are living in a fast paced world filled with so much data that we can’t possibly analyze all of it on any given day. Nonetheless I suspect that we are often mislead by what we do see and hear because it is a “Reader’s Digest” version of original ideas. For example, the Georgetown report was quite extensive and included statistics on virtually every possible college major. The news source had diluted it down to twenty two slides that simply indicated the ten highest and the ten lowest paying majors without any real explanations as to why each course of study fit into specific categories. I was frustrated by the mind numbing powerpoint display and so I found the paper as it was written by the authors. It contained quite valuable information including a breakdown of job opportunities and pay in different parts of the country. 

I’ve worked with young students for a very long time. I fear that giving them a quick visual summary of high and low paying majors is counterproductive. Determining one’s lifetime career is so much more involved than trying to get the most bang for the buck. It’s true that those who choose business or STEM majors will generally make 3.4 million dollars more than those who choose education or the arts, but will they be happy? I can’t think of any worse dilemma than setting off to work each day feeling miserable. I have to admit that there were days when I was exhausted and didn’t feel that I could face another challenge but for the most part I was in love with my job. At the end of the my career I was able to point to profound accomplishments that were priceless. There is quite simply no greater joy than knowing that one has made a true difference in the world. 

Don’t get me wrong. I realize that our engineers and scientists are doing great things. We all enjoy the technological advances that make our lives better. We need our accountants and financial analysts. Without them our economy would be a mess. Truly there are individuals who get as much of a kick out of such occupations as I did out of being a teacher. I suppose that my point is that we need to guide our younger generation to the jobs that will give them a sense of fulfillment and purpose. That will be just a bit different for each of them. We have to admit that sometimes finding the right niche will not even include a college degree. 

I vividly recall a student whose attitude toward education was quite negative. He only came to school because the law required that he be there. He openly bragged that he was biding his time until he was old enough to drop out. His bravado bothered me to say the least because he was incredibly bright and capable of so much more than he seemed willing to accomplish. I took him aside one day in an attempt to motivate him to want to learn. He informed me that he had already been trained by his uncle to be a master welder. He boasted that without any kind of degree his uncle was making twice the salary that my fellow educators and I made. He saw little reason to spend time in a classroom when a grand career awaited him. 

I attempted to refute his claims by insisting that education allowed a person to be more flexible in the work world. While it was true that welders had a higher income than I had, I was able to adapt and adjust to the whims of the economy much more quickly than they were. I insisted that the goal of education is only partially economic. It also enables the individual to find a fit in society regardless of the trends. Education is a kind of ace in the hole. Besides, there is something quite wonderful about possessing the knowledge and ability to interpret the world.

I seemed to get through to this young man. He drastically changed his ways after our talk. He even admitted that he had told his uncle about our conversation and his family mentor had agreed wholeheartedly with me. The older man had spoken of times when his services were not needed and he struggled to make ends meet. He saw welding as a fine profession but like me he wanted a bit more for his nephew. 

We hear a great deal about education these days. It’s difficult to know just which skills will ultimately be most important to our youth. The amount of knowledge necessary for today’s world seems to grow and grow such that teachers are in a constant race to keep up a frenzied pace. At the end of the day the ability to read and interpret all manner of text should be the ultimate goal for every student. Within that skill lies the key to so many different forms of knowledge. Reading unlocks the mysteries of literature, science, and even mathematics. For that reason I cringe whenever I see important ideas being distilled into a series of slides. The best gift that we may give our future generations is the skill of being critical readers and thinkers. 

It saddens me that so many of our youth are basing their entire lives on lists of high and low paying jobs. I’d like to think that instead we are training our future leaders to ask questions and to do their own research. Those who learn how to do such things will do well in society regardless of major. They will rise to the top because they know how to analyze situations in making decisions. They will consider many options and many points of view because their parents and their teachers have taught them the importance of gathering and interpreting the facts. They will know better than to accept a slide show as the be all and end all of information. Our goal should be a workforce of thoughtful individuals who have weighed their options and found the best fit for their interests and skills. 

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