Friday, October 10, 2008

Misunderstanding the Value Equasion: Wrong-Headed Teaching in Wrong-Headed Schools

(This is the 5th installment in a series of articles about the problems associated with government's attempts to ignore free market principles in a free market world ecomony.)

There should be little mystery about why the concept of value is so far off base. From our earliest training, we were taught to misunderstand it.

It Started in School. Purpose: Produce Workers for the Industrial Machine

We built a system by which masses of people could be trained to become tools in an industrial machine. Around the end of the 19th century, John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and John Dewey aligned to create the system to produce the workers they needed to participate in the newly developing American industrial economy. And it worked wonderfully. America became the greatest industrial force the world had ever seen. By the millions, American workers entered the workforce, traded their time and their lives for paychecks, and, in doing so, forgot the central meaning of value.

Value became erroneously, acceptably, and inseparably connected with time, and with task.

For at least 2 generations, the definition was reinforced, solidified by story and culture, respected as the "backbone of the economy" as if getting and keeping a job was the prize, and the best economic contribution an American could make. People worked for 40 years, retired with a gold watch and a pension, and died within 5 years.

Generations of Americans were trained to believe that the highest contribution they could make was to have, and to keep a job. In fact, our very identities continue to revolve around this idea. The seemingly most important first question asked when introduced to a new person is, "What do you do?" The main reason parents give to support their children's success in school is that this will enable them to "get a good job."

We Keep Following the Model, Well Beyond its Benefit.

So things went, and so they continue. As long as America had a fairly stable, predictable demographic, and no international competitors to speak of, the system could successfully continue. We continue to follow the Carnegie/Rockefeller/Dewey education system, even better than ever. We admire it, require it, fund it, protect it, and demand it. That very system continues to produce more and more of exactly what it was designed to produce: people who believe a job to be the economic end game, people who associate time with money, and don't understand value. The System Was Created for the World as it Existed in 1940.

The Foundations Have Changed

The basic essential conditions which enabled our education system to produce the necessary contributors to achieve American Industrial greatness no longer exist. The demographic model is completely different. Technology supports quality international competitors for everything we produce. And it is no longer beneficial to have millions of people who don't understand value. In fact, it is detrimental to our survival. It is proverbial that America needs to improve the public education system. All politicians say it. They just don't know why, or how. Their own models are merely copies of the acceptable ones of old, with more bells and whistles. They still motivate students with the prospect of securing a good job upon graduation.

We Will Never Change the System if We Keep Listening to its Trained Advocates

Adding to the problem is the very leaders of the educational institution themselves. These are professional educators, 2nd and 3rd generations of people educated by educators, not educated by real life, or by real economics.

The people who have such a vested interest in the preservation of the very system that creates the economic problems we are beginning to face are the same ones who haven't a clue about the way things really work. They are so separated by time and space and education that they actually believe the unworkable utopian, anti-capitalistic solutions they are now building into the millions of Americans they touch.

Yes, America needs to improve our education system, but very few can even anticipate the extent of the alteration required. Still, at the core of the educational change, will be the understanding of value. We are far from this.

I heard a Comment by John McCain Which Offered a Glimmer of Hope.

I heard this in John McCain's speech at the Republican nominating convention. He was speaking about some of the systems we try to preserve in our country today.

"I know some of you have been left behind in the changing economy and it often seems your government hasn’t even noticed. Government assistance for unemployed workers was designed for the economy of the 1950s. That’s going to change on my watch. My opponent promises to bring back old jobs by wishing away the global economy. We’re going to help workers who’ve lost a job that won’t come back, find a new one that won’t go away."

McCain is talking about the need to educate our people in a way that fully understands the concept of delivering value. As the world changes at hyper-dynamic speed, the old beliefs and systems that were undergirded by those beliefs need to change.

Value must be understood. People must take personal responsibility to continually update their education so that they can stay current in this ever changing world.

CJ Coolidge is a regular contributor to HRTools.coms.
You can now get your own copy of his groundbreaking book,
The Squaredime Letters.
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