How Successful Ventures Start

Doma now has almost 90% of the support for her college education!  Did you doubt if I could build $100,000 of funding for Doma?  Did you decide to wait before participating?  There is no longer any need for caution.

This venture is succeeding.  Blessed to have learned from many successes and some failures along the way, I know how ventures succeed.

The iconic hero when I was in school in England was Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott.  The team he led to the South Pole in 1912 found Amundsen had got there first.  Scott and his team all died on the way back.  I recognized Scott’s courage but considered him a dangerous role model.  His weak planning led to such disastrous failure.

That’s why I got interested in how successful ventures start, and when and how to plan.

First, intuition must be fed all the information that could be relevant.   There’s no fixed schedule for this stage — we see the first step to take quite suddenly one day and are confident it’s right.

The next steps are guided by feeding intuition results.  There’s no fixed schedule for this stage either.  Only after enough results have accumulated do we recognize intuition’s plan, which it kept refining based on those results.  That’s when we begin the structured activity we think of as planning.

Establishing support for Doma’s college education has followed this time-honored trajectory.  Perhaps it will seem surprising that only this week have I understood what my intuition was up to.

Intuition’s starting point in this case was Hampshire College’s anticipated “family contribution” of around $100,000 over four years.  Since Doma’s mother can provide none of that and Felicity and I can provide only a about a quarter, it meant I must establish over $75,000 of support from others.

The first question intuition addressed was, what if you and Felicity cannot make that $6,000 contribution in future years?  It decided I must deposit $24,000 in the bank now to cover all four years’ contributions.

It then considered how best to raise the remaining $75,000.  Only the first year’s family contribution, $23,372, need be raised now, it decided, because anyone who contributes for the first year is likely to contribute again in future years when they see what Doma accomplishes.

So the key question was how best to raise $17,372 ($23,372 minus my contribution).  Intuition’s answer was, from as many supporters as possible.  Why?   It mitigates risk.  Some who contribute now may not be able to in future years.  The loss of one or a few contributors would have relatively little impact.

Reflecting on that approach, intuition saw more benefits.  A large pool of financial supporters will include people who can help Doma in ways we cannot yet imagine that will emerge as circumstances change.

The result so far?  Doma has 65 supporters in 50 households (i.e., 15 supporters are couples).  Another 10 or more cannot make a donation now but hope to in future years.  The average donation (excluding mine and Felicity’s) is $259.  Half of all donations by households are $100 or less.

Supporters other than Felicity and me have donated a total of $14,518 so far.  This means only $2,854 more is needed to fund Doma’s first year at Hampshire College.  That is just 11 more supporters at the $259 average, or fewer than 30 who give around $100 each.

Why would these people become Doma’s supporters?  How would they benefit?  For the same reason as those who already gave.

This is not like an annual gift to, say, the local volunteer fire department or a charity whose work for individuals you do not see.  A donation for Doma’s future is financial support that also wishes her great good fortune on her amazing journey.

You will get ongoing written and video updates about Doma’s progress, and she hopes to thank everyone in person for making this extraordinary opportunity possible.

There is no more reason to hesitate before joining the 65 generous souls who are already supporting Doma.

Let’s delight her by completing the funding in the next couple of days!  Click on this link to make a donation via Paypal now.  Thank you!

The Practice of Generosity

Could I do a good enough job asking for donations for Doma’s college education?  I’d never done anything like it before.  I knew she would get some of what she needs because I have such good-hearted friends, but how much?

Doma is amazed that fully four fifths of the total has already been given!  She needs only $5,000 more for her first year at Hampshire College.

But what’s left now is the hard part.

We get so many appeals and we can’t give to them all.  Worse, we’re usually too busy when an appeal arrives to figure out if it’s worthy of support.  Will this appeal really make a difference?

Yes!  Doma, an amazing young low-caste Nepali woman, is transforming her own future.   All she needs from us is 50 more supporters to donate $100.

Most of us could do that very easily.  Five $20 bills don’t buy much any more.  Many of us buy $100 items online without hesitation.

So the fact that Doma still needs those donations means I must do a better job.

Maybe it’s time for crowd-funding, aiming to reach people I don’t know?  Certainly, when Doma is here, she can give traditional Nepali dance performances at fund-raisers.

But how much more powerful for Doma if her education sponsor’s friends support her completely even before they’ve met her.  Let’s raise the rest of what she needs for her first year right now.

I never asked you for anything like this before so you know it’s important even if you don’t have time to read what makes it so.   Is there a $100 meal or some other luxury you could forgo?

If you are blessed in this way, help Doma transform her future by clicking here to donate that $100 now.  It takes only a moment.  Ask your friends to do it, too.

Thank you and bless you!




My Father and Doma’s Education

I wrote what I learned from my mother and what I am learning from Doma.  Now I’ve been reflecting on what I learned from my father.  Why would he have made no contribution for Doma’s college education?

We inherit our parents’ life experiences and the roles they model.  My father was dependable and honest in all his dealings.  Also, he was never violent.  He felt it was as wrong to kill Germans he didn’t know as it would have been to kill his wife.  Like his own father who was jailed for three years for refusing to participate in the madness of WW1, he was jailed in WW2.

I’m not certain what my father believed was the right response to Hitler’s actions.  What he knew was that in the years before WW2 he had made a solemn vow that he would not participate in any war, and he was unshakeable when he made a commitment.  Because of that, I try very hard to think through all the implications before I make one.

Hard work was another example my father set, a lesson I learned too well since my mother did the same and neither of them did much that was not work.  Unlike my father, however, my mother did find one form of work that brought her joy.  She cared for babies whose mothers could not keep them.

I’m blessed that my father role-modeled honesty, non-violence, dependability, discipline and hard work.  However — true as it is that our richest source of lessons is our own mistakes, we can also learn much from our parents’.  How they lived formed us, so by understanding their mistakes, we can see what to change in our own behavior.  What can I learn from my father’s mistakes?

Perhaps I’ll write more another time.  Enough for now is that his mother died before his first birthday.  He lived with his grandparents until his father remarried when he was eight.  They moved that same year from England to Ohio and met a man who had bought a citrus farm in extreme SW Texas.  When my grandfather went to manage it there were no citrus trees, only brush.  He built a shack, cleared the brush and planted vegetables.  This was a happy time for my father but his step-mother could not abide the heat, so after three years they returned to Ohio.  Going to a “real” school was another happy experience but then my grandfather lost his job in the Great Depression and returned to England.  My father stayed to finish High School.

The “citrus farm” owner offered to fund my father’s college education but my grandfather refused and sent him a ticket back to England.  My father considered that rejection a matter of principal but all his life my grandfather resented his own father’s refusal to keep him in school after he turned 13.  A US education had no value in England.  My father found a job dredging waterways — secure, worthwhile and very low paid.  Years later, my mother found him a better paid job selling insurance door to door.  Believing insurance is a good thing, he sold it with conviction and worked longer and longer hours collecting payments on more and more insurance that he sold so people could have less to fear from life’s insecurities.

Perhaps because he worked too hard, he grew increasingly depressed about the upheavals he considered life had inflicted upon him, beginning with his mother’s death before he even knew her.    He continued dutifully selling insurance long after my mother died, afraid to stop because that would change his life yet again.  He was hoping for it years before death came to him at last when he was 90.

If we look deep enough inside ourselves, we can see our parents more clearly as childhood recedes.  My unquestioning admiration for my father became muddied with anger as I grew increasingly frustrated by his passivity.  There is a profound difference between passivity and acceptance.  What we commonly term acceptance implies that we must just endure suffering that comes our way.  That was my father’s understanding.  He felt his number one job was to endure.  Buddhism, however, teaches joyful acceptance, how to recognize that this moment is the only one when we actually are alive, and that this is a moment where anything at all is possible.

We cannot control the winds and seas that our ship encounters.  We can, however, learn skills to captain our ship.  And the greatest lesson is that we alone are captain of our ship.  Then we must learn to respond to that not with fear but with relish for the amazing possibilities.  It is so sad that my father did not look inside where he could have seen that truth.

It would not have occurred to my father to make a donation for Doma’s education because he was so preoccupied with his own suffering.  He simply did not notice charitable appeals.  He was committed to his own family’s support and did not feel selfish, but he was in fact self-absorbed.

What I learned from my father’s fundamental mistake is even more important than what I learned from his virtues.  One reason I help Doma, who I have no obligation to help but who is in a position where I can is, I have slowly come to recognize, to dissolve my own selfishness.

May 2018 update – Doma graduated in four years with a VA in Mathematics and Interdisciplinary Studies.

A Good Education For All

We like the words of conservatives — they focus on what’s good.  Progressives make us angry because when advocating change, they tell us what’s bad.  Many compound the problem with their tone — they feel, deep down, that what’s wrong never will be fully righted.  Robert Reich is an exception:

“This Saturday, May 17, marks the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling overcoming “separate but equal” school segregation that the Court had approved in 1896.  The Brown decision helped fuel the civil rights movement, but it failed to have a lasting effect on school segregation.  America’s schools today are almost as segregated as were southern schools before Brown.  That’s because the neighborhoods where most black and Latino children now live and attend school are nearly all black and Latino.

We’re segregating geographically by income and race, more dramatically than at any time in the nation’s history.  Entire cities are now mostly poor and black or Latino, even though bordered by cities or counties that are largely middle class and white (consider Detroit and its neighbor, Oakland County, Michigan).  But as was the case in the 1950s, separate is not equal.  In order to integrate our schools we need to integrate our cities and communities.  Housing policy is critical to education.”

In fact, it’s hard to see how the problem Reich describes can be overcome under our Constitution, and the problem is broader than he describes.  His solution falls short but it is a good basis for discussion because his principal focus always is on a better future.

Our schools are indeed segregated by race but the deeper segregation in our society is by wealth.  Schools in poor and affluent white communities look similar because both sets of kids are white.  The quality of education, however, is very different.  That means so also are the outcomes.

Because almost half the funding for US public schools depends on local taxes, there are inevitable large differences in education between wealthy and impoverished communities.  The difference compounds over time because better educated children become higher income adults who choose to live where high property taxes fund good schools for their own children.

Looked at the other way, communities where student poverty is rare have well-funded schools, those where student poverty is rampant get much less funding.

Ours is the only first world nation that funds education based on local wealth.  Other nations equalize funding or provide more for students in need.  Dutch schools, for example, are funded based on the number of pupils and get almost twice as much funding per minority child and 1.25 times as much per low-income child as per middle-class child.  In the US, we do the opposite.  Schools for our lower-income and minority students typically receive less funds than those for middle-class white kids.

When our government structure was established by Constitution in the 18th century, most schools were financed by voluntary contributions.  By the end of the 19th century most schools were funded with local property taxes.  That was OK because people in most communities then had similar standards of living.  But urbanization in the 20th century created ever-growing differences between affluent suburbs and poor inner cities.  Parents in affluent communities could pay for better schools.

Does that differential funding make a difference?  US schools with high funding and few impoverished students got achievement scores comparable to those of Hong Kong, Japan, and other top-scoring countries in a 2001 study by the International Association for the Advancement of Educational Achievement.  US schools with the lowest funding and many poor students got achievement scores similar to the worst-scoring nations, Turkey, Jordan, and Iran.

This severe inequality is not likely to change soon.  Most parents in affluent communities do not want to pay higher taxes to improve education in poorer communities.  They certainly do not want funding to be taken away from their local schools.  And in its 1973 San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez ruling, the US Supreme Court found that our Constitution does not require equal funding among school districts.  Today’s Court would rule the same way.  That decision foreclosed federal remedies for inequitable school funding.

Nevertheless, as pragmatist philosopher and educator John Dewey’s wrote more than a century ago: “What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must be what the community wants for all its children.”

Most people believe better education leads to a better future.  An America where every child and teacher goes to a good school would be better.

I have a dream that we will overcome the obstacles to a better education for all our children.  We will get there faster by ranting less about what’s wrong with our institutions, leaders and neighbors and focusing instead on achieving what is better.



A Compelling Story

Share our excitement!  Doma Ghale, a low-caste, very poor Nepali girl we’ve sponsored for seven years has been admitted by a great US college!  We’re inspired by her amazing progress.  Her degree here will complete her preparation to build a business that creates good jobs in Nepal.  But she now needs more help than we alone can give.

All of us get a lot of appeals. Why respond to this one?  See Doma explain why she wants a US college education in this video.  Watch this Nepali dance performance she choreographed.  Learn more about her achievements here.  Read about her mother’s life and her own self-transformation hereFinancial aid, donation and college expense accounting data are here and here is news about her progress and experiences, as well as updates to the Accounting page.

Join this inspiring journey!  Click on the Donate button below to make a one-time or recurring monthly contribution online through Paypal, or mail a check to Bath Savings Institution, PO Box 548, Bath, Maine 04530-0548 for deposit in the Beneficiary Account Doma Ghale 187630.  Their ABA for bank-to-bank transfers is 2112 74447.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Surprised by the Antichrist

If you’re ever on I-84 near where it meets the Mass Pike, stop in at the Traveler Restaurant, be served a good diner-style meal by friendly waitresses and choose three free books.  I’ve been going there every chance I get since 1985.

What I found there most recently is Kevin Phillips’ 2006 American Theocracy.  In his 1967 book The Emerging Republican Majority Phillips showed how gaining Southern voters could propel the Republican Party’s revival.  He is now horrified by the result.

American Theocracy has three sections.  Phillips starts by reviewing how our dependence on oil led to our foreign policy and wars in the Middle East and ends by showing how our financial and business leaders got the Republican Party’s traditional principles of sound finance abandoned.  What surprised me is the middle section.  There he examines the rise of fundamentalist Christianity and apocalyptic expectations and shows how they shape our policies.

Phillips cites the statistics on Americans with a religious preference.  From 17% in 1776 it rose to 34% in 1850, 45% in 1890, 56% in 1926, 62% in 1980 and 63% in 2000.  We were established as a secular republic when fewer than one in five Americans had any religious preference.  More than three in five of us now has a religious belief.

Almost half (46%) of Americans now identify themselves as “born again” Christians.  And more than half (55%) in a 2004 Newsweek poll believe the Bible is literally accurate.

In the 2000 elections 87% of the “frequent-attending white religious right” voted for George W. Bush (GWB).  Only 27% of secular voters favored him.  I had no idea religious belief had such an impact.  I did recognize that when GWB characterized his invasion of Iraq as a “crusade”, that really was his view.  I should have realized, too, that a significant percentage of those who supported him also imagine we are now engaged in a holy war in the Abrahamic end time.

But I was entirely unprepared for this on page 260 “Some 40 percent of Americans believe that the antichrist is alive and already on the earth” even though I knew that under GWB, Saddam Hussein was identified as the antichrist.   Who, I wondered, is the antichrist now Saddam Hussein is no more?

In this 2013 Public Policy Poll Report I discovered that 13% of voters in the 2012 election believed President Obama is the antichrist and a further 13% was “not sure.”  Among voters for Romney 22% believed Obama is the antichrist while fewer than 3 in 5 believed he is not.  It may be yet more alarming that 5% of voters for Obama believed him to be the antichrist.

In that report we also see 58% of Republican voters believed “global warming is a hoax”, 33% believed “Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11”  and 73% did not believe “Bush misled on Iraq WMDs.”

What to make of all this?  My assumption about the widespread lack of respect for facts and skeptical inquiry in America was mistaken.  The great problem is not the mechanics of our educational system but the purpose many want it to serve – certainty in the literal truth of the Bible.

I’ve written before about fundamentalism.  Our media tells us it’s a problem among Muslims, especially in the Middle East, where terrorists hope to kill us all.  But some American fundamentalists are also eager for war, perhaps because they fear our nation is in decline.

Fundamentalism results from fear when social, economic or political trends look like a threat to existence.  The desire for certainty in a way out grows overwhelming.  Everyone else must then embrace the same faith because belief in something that cannot be proved is a lot easier to maintain if nobody is expressing doubts.

But we will inevitably do harm if we imagine we are fundamentally different and have mortal enemies.  Only misery can result.

What to do?  We must calm and clear away the fears.

Everything we do, say and think boosts or shrinks fear in the world.  A butterfly could alter the path of a hurricane or prevent its occurrence — the flapping of wings is one of so many tiny forces on the atmosphere.  It’s the same with human moments of love or hate.

The Appeal of Dishonesty and Bad News

Why are we content with dishonesty in the media, and why do we so avidly consume “news” about crime and tragedies?

I’ve been pondering the comment, “We no longer have news organizations dedicated to fair and balanced reporting that educates instead of indoctrinating the public” on the first post in this series.

The superficial answer is it’s what we’re accustomed to, what we grew up with.  Maybe we realize “the news” is not to make us less ignorant but to stimulate our emotions so we will want to buy things, as I explored in this post, but how does it work?

Let’s start with “balanced reporting.”  That means a balance between how things look from left and right in the sphere of domestic affairs.  More specifically, it means things are not presented in a way to polish the Democratic or Republican Party brands.

How about “indoctrinating the public?”  It is indoctrination when a proposed tax change is presented through the prism of a political party’s tax policy brand: when facts about the proposal are selected and highlighted based on how closely they align with ‘taxes bad,’ ‘soak the rich’ or some such slogan.

It is likely to be indoctrination when we see warfare and civil violence in other parts of the world.  Why?  Because the implication usually is that such things do not happen here, but they will if we don’t keep “those people” from coming here.

We have an idea of what makes us different: we are rugged individuals who take care of our own, we are freedom-lovers, we are can-do people.  The problem with labeling ourselves as Americans and assigning such properties to the label is it means we also characterize un-Americans.

Un-Americans might be Canadians, Mexicans, or stateless Islamic terrorists.   They might just have a funny accent and silly ideas about governance, they might sneak in and take our jobs, or they might come and blow us up.  At best they are harmlessly inferior, at worst our mortal enemies.

The problem is branding in a sphere where it is not a helpful convenience but a stimulus of hatred.  Branding saves us time when we buy things.  We don’t have to look at every can of soup because we’ll be happy with the brand we trust.

But what if we’re a Marlboro man?  That’s branding of a specific product, Marlboros, and a product category, cigarettes.  The Marlboro branding leverages our self-concept of rugged individualism, freedom-loving and so on.  It also leverages branding that makes us ignore tobacco’s impact on our health .

And the effects grow darker when we identify so strongly with the Democratic Party as to demonize Republicans or vice versa, or we become a crusading Christian or Muslim.

In fact, the problem begins when we become a partisan.  Joining with others to promote policies favored by a political party or interest group is not a problem.  That’s how democracy works, the least worst way we have yet found to govern.

Following the teachings of Buddha, Confucius, Jesus, Muhammad (alphabetical order) or others who gained wisdom is good because they help us grow better.

The problem begins when we believe there is something wrong with those who do not follow our practice.  That leads not to growing better but to hatred.

However, we’re still at a superficial level.  Why do we become partisans?  Why do we identify so strongly with our tribe, American, Democrat, Christian or whatever that we end up hating those we identify as members of a different tribe?

Why do we watch news that we know is less than honest, certainly not balanced, and that motivates us to hate (or envy) others?

Because we want our beliefs confirmed.  We want to feel we are not alone.  We want security.

Feeling our connection with others is good.  Mistaking that feeling for an idea about our nature, however, that is not good.  It gets us thinking, “I am one of those who are superior (or unfairly inferior) to others”  and then we start thinking it’s OK for us to attack them.

The ultimate root of the problem is our desire for security.

I asked, “how [can we] encourage more people to WANT honesty [in the media?]”  What each of us can do is speak up about harmful untruths and publicly debate legislative changes because that helps us recognize when we (ourself) don’t know or misinterpret some facts.

What I do not know is how we can educate ourselves to differentiate between facts and beliefs.  According to a 2001 Gallup poll, for example, about 45% of Americans believe “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.”  Whether or not we believe in a Creator is a belief — we cannot know.  We do know, however, that human beings were not created in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.

If we don’t see the difference between religious beliefs and facts we will also not see the difference between political or any other kind of beliefs and facts.

I will return to education in future posts.  There must be a way to motivate making it more effective.

Returning to the root problem and what each of us can do about that, we can recognize that ultimately there is no security.  We are both utterly alone and inextricably connected, not fundamentally different from those “over there.”  Every single one of us will end up old, weak and dead.  Unless we first grow sick.  Which could happen at any moment.

Ultimate safety doesn’t lie in beliefs about the rightness of “people like me” and the wrongness of others.  The only real security is being OK with the fact that there is no security and therefore nothing to worry about.  Recognizing that requires re-training, which I can testify is long and initially hard work but which I’ve seen in others is ultimately fruitful.

So we must point out the harm untruths cause and even more important, eradicate our own false ideas.  There is no silver bullet against poison in the media.

First Be A Good Person

One of my great heroes, Sachin Tendulkar, just retired at age 40. He was a spectacularly talented basman who first played international cricket for India when he was 16. I won`t cite his statistics because they will be meaningless if you don`t know cricket. Truly, they do have little meaning relative to the extraordinary adulation from the entire stadium at the close of his last match.

Now I`m watching Sachin respond to questions from adoring schoolchildren. His answers are always thoughtful, often humorous, most of all helpful. He`s thinking why each question was asked, how he can answer in a way the child can feel. They are spellbound.

The host asks the last question: “You have accomplished so much, Sachin, you are so famous, but you are so humble. How have you kept such humility?”

“When I was selected to play for my country for the first time, my father told me: Sachin, you have been honored today, you must do the best you can with your bat, but this is temporary. If you do well, people will like you, but there will be a time after cricket. You should want people still to like you after cricket. That means, first you must be a good person, then you can be a good cricketer.”

Sachin ended this way: “Some of you might play cricket for India, some of you might be lawyers or work in business or many other things. Whatever you do, please first be a good person.”

The Purpose of Education

The 1925 Butler Act in Tennessee decreed:  “That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals, all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the Story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”   It remained on the books until 1967.

What was the purpose of education in the USA in 1925?  The nation was primarily rural.  A high percentage of the population worked on small scale farms.  Others did low skill jobs in relatively unmechanized factories.  It was similar to life in Nepal in the very recent past.  The skills children needed were learned in the fields or factories not schools.  What parents wanted kids to learn in addition to practical skills were the beliefs on which their culture depended.  That’s why the 1925 Butler Act became law, so children would not be taught to question the Bible’s teachings.

The 1944 Butler Act in the UK promised every child would in future have secondary education, and it would be education best suited to their abilities.  The economy would be supplied with intellectuals, technicians and general workers, each with the necessary training.  Before 1944, some local governments provided secondary schools but most were tuition-funded.  To prosper in the aftermath of WW2, every British child was to get secondary education either in a Grammar school with an academic curriculum for intellectuals, an equally respected Secondary Technical school with a curriculum for future scientists, engineers and technicians, or an equally respected Secondary Modern school focused on training for less skilled jobs and home management.

That plan collided with both economic reality – the UK economy was devastated by WW2 – and cultural reality.  Grammar schools got all the prestige, few Technical schools were established, and Secondary Modern schools were inadequately funded.  To promote a more egalitarian society, Comprehensive secondary schools were later established for children of all abilities and social classes.  There is now a mix of the two systems.

But it was not just that there was a form of caste in the UK with land-holding families looking down on merchants who looked down on laborers and so forth.  There was also a profound division within Britain’s intellectual class.  Education in Britain traditionally focused on study of the human condition via history and the arts, not reasoning from the outcome of scientific experiments.

In a famous 1959 lecture, British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow said Western education had split in two, the sciences and the humanities, and he later wrote: “A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated … if I had asked [them] ‘What do you mean by mass, or acceleration?’, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, ‘Can you read?’ not more than one in ten would have felt that I was speaking the same language.  So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had.”

Snow wanted two things, an end to the contempt for scientists among “gentlemen” educated in the humanities, which in the USA we call social sciences, and for everyone who would have an impact on future society to know the fundamentals in all fields of knowledge and be trained to use all available thinking tools.

The Dalai Lama recently advocated essentially the same thing: “The great benefit of science is that it can make a tremendous contribution to the alleviation of suffering on a physical level, but it is only by cultivating the qualities of the human heart and transforming our attitudes that we can begin to address and overcome our mental suffering.  We need both, since the alleviation of suffering must take place on both a physical and a psychological level.”

In summary, the purpose of education is to motivate and enable us to take better action.

What, then, are the implications for public education in the USA?  What are our existing problems, our future challenges, potential solutions, and likely obstacles?

I’m exploring our greatest new challenges in other posts.  In summary: (1) Capital is over-represented relative to people as a guide to government policy, (2) Extremists too easily thwart government action, (3) Our citizens are poorly equipped to understand what government action is appropriate, and (4) We have not recognized the implications of globalization and information technology for our economy.  Also, we still face all the same challenges guiding our behavior with each other as all civilizations have throughout history.

Because our government at all levels is elected, our most serious obstacle would be if many of our citizens are poorly equipped to differentiate between fact and fiction or use reason.  The world has changed greatly since I was in school and the pace of change has greatly accelerated.  We should prepare our children for a world whose characteristics we can only intuit, not know.  The better they can understand how that world works the better able they will be to thrive, and the better trained they are in controlling their minds the better they will behave with each other.

We should not allow our children to be taught as factual theories about the world that we know are false.  What we should teach them is how to gather the facts, how to differentiate between facts and non-facts, how to reason and experiment, how to develop intuition and know how to use it, and how to communicate effectively.

Unfortunately, I do not know enough about how education is directed in the USA, the respective roles and authority of the Federal, State and local governments, school districts and individual teachers to propose a solution.  The intentional division of power makes it hard to steer.  We must worry in a different way about what my brother-in-law who advises new national governments about education policy pointed out:  “You and I want education to develop people’s ability to think for themselves, to find the facts, analyze them, come to a conclusion and act accordingly.  That is not necessarily what heads of government want people to do.”

Rejection or Ignorance of Science?

In summary, Gallup writes:  “almost half of Americans today hold a belief, at least as measured by this question wording, that is at odds with the preponderance of the scientific literature.”  What are they talking about?  “The 46% of Americans who today believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years is little changed from the 44% who believed this 30 years ago”.

Gallup poll Origin of Humans.jpb

The existence or not of the creative entity we call God is unprovable.  Many folks are encouraged by their belief in God to do good.  Some throughout history have felt justified to torture others who do not share their belief.  Fervent belief is the problem.  That can lead to believing others should be forced to the same belief.

It is not necessarily a problem that: “78% of Americans today believe that God had a hand in the development of humans in some way“.  It is a serious problem that so many Americans reject “the preponderance of the scientific literature”.  This is not the only science being rejected.

How can it be that almost half of all Americans reject tools for understanding the world?

Our educational system is failing disastrously and I do not at all understand why.   I’ve joked about its pretensions but there was after all some merit in my alma mater, “Richard Hale’s Free Grammar School for the Deserving Sons of Impecunious Gentlefolk, Founded in 1608” and there must be something different about the schooling of my fellow citizens who do accept facts and believe in reasoning.

I’ll try to say what was good about my school experience.  The British school system drove students at an early age to study either science, popularly considered to depend on reasoning, or arts, defined as nonscientific knowledge.   I was fortunate because I resisted being driven in that way; I studied both physics and literature.  I was also fortunate not to resist my English teacher’s insistence that I understand both what I read and how the language worked.

And, although physics did not yet cover quantum theory (matter and energy have properties of both particles and waves and physical systems can only have properties like energy in discrete amounts or quanta) I did get enough of an overview to see how science progresses.  Imaginative leaps verified by experiment enable theories that don’t explain all the facts to be replaced by ones that explain more.

I was taught how to use all humankind’s thinking tools.  I learned to value reason, inference and intuition.  I learned not to imagine any theory to be a final explanation.  I was encouraged to question all theories and evidence.  I was taught, in other words, how to investigate, how to learn.

Also, my parents taught me to work hard, practice and be persistent.  No question, it would have been better to try harder but that’s a different issue.