Democracy and Education (or something like it)

I have been thinking about some democracy centered items over the past few years. About three years ago while I was still in Lincoln, NE. I was working at a place called Taco Inn and reflecting upon my life experience – the only logical thing to do when you have a job that solely utilizes your basal ganglia (essentially the reptilian part of the brain). The first thing that came to mind was about rights vs. duties.

I starting thinking about a phrase that I had heard in pop culture and in dialogs between people: It’s my right! I contemplated how this was used in several circumstances and finally settled that the context always implied a rights versus duties point of view. Let me explain: It seemed as though people would use the reality of having certain inalienable rights and freedoms as an excuse to neglect any duty or obligation that they had. I’m my own person. I can do what I want to. Just do it. This was our right. It seems very adolescent and it seems indicative of our culture.

This began to upset me, because I realized that rights brought along with certain duties. It is your right to take a loan, but it is your duty and obligation to repay it. Otherwise, there are consequences – personal and corporate. Take the sub-prime mortgage crisis for example. Duties and rights – these are the Yin and Yang of freedom. It is your duty to vote on everything you possibly can, otherwise it is you fault that your freedom was taken away from under your nose.

One other thing that I also thought was incredible that has some relation to democracy was that a lot of people in Europe have installed their own network infrastructure. Each person installed it on their property and owned it. No telecommunications company owned it because the people owned it. I have since thought about how awesome it would be if we overthrew all of the telecommunications companies by creating our own small grassroots tel-co movements. Along theses same lines, in Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; and in so many places around the world people are installing their own wireless networks that let people access different things, especially the internet. With how cheap technology is, it would be easy for a group of people to form a Wi-Fi cooperative and provide internet access. Of course they would need to find out how to get access to the internet, either a direct T1, OC-n, or distributed access through local internet providers. Any number of ways would work.

Now what would happen if people started to create their own cell phone networks? Cable networks? What about starting to broadcast in the now up for grabs TV spectrum when TVs go blank in February of 2009. Better jump on that quick before no one can get any bandwidth because Google or Nextel have bought all of it.

This brings me to my thoughts on education. Those ideas wouldn’t fly is because people aren’t taught enough about technology, science, engineering, and mathematics in elementary and middle school. I won’t point fingers here. I’ll say that there isn’t enough money and I don’t think we know the best way to educate students about those subjects. Now, I will put in my two cents worth (or more):

I started a research project and I wrote an eighteen plus page paper (which is going to turn into a book soon if I keep working on it). I have integrated different aspects of different disciplines and, in short, the book is very multifaceted and interdisciplinary. It draws on the ideas of neuroscience, artificial intelligence, artificial life, anthropology, sociology, education, and psychology. I wrote a short paragraph about learning in the earliest societies. It stresses how most learning took place in the field.

There were hunter-gatherers who would need to learn how to survive through experience. By doing so they were also helping the clan. There were also the early agrarian societies. These would learn the same way. They would learn by doing – not just to be doing something, but to help in a meaningful and rewarding way in society. This is how we evolved for many thousands of years. If you happen to be a creationist, there is still the mechanism of micro-evolution that is fully compatible with your world-view. It still allows for the fine tuning of the learning mechanism in our species over time.

We are very maladapted to learning things in the absence of societal reward. This is a profound statement that has prolific consequences for education and democracy. In this paradigm, learning about STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects becomes rewarding (perhaps even financially?) and interesting. Since it immerses them into society, they will learn about all of the societal structures that are in place that they need to know about to bring their ideas to fruition. If they want to start a business, what type of business will it be? Sole proprietorship? Partnership? LLC? LLP? C or S Corporation? A variant of one of the above? Does their state support chartering their choice? Where will they get financing? What is the business plan and exit strategy? Since they are embedded in society, they will succeed or fail. Either way, they will learn and gain experience that will enable more success.

It is through this paradigm that they will dream and bring that dream into existence. They will learn higher level cognitive skills than they will if we just focus on the basics. I should stress that would “just” in the previous sentence. The basics will be there and they will be drilled over the basics. However, the reason will be the same about for any concert performer or athlete to practice and drill basics: it improves your capabilities and chances for successfully implementing your dream.

This paradigm also brings duties and rights to the forefront. It is your duty to learn this to earn your right to bring your dream into reality. If anyone argues, “We have that in the current system, it is one’s duty to graduate and earn your right to do what you want to. What makes this any different?” One major reason: this paradigm is more relevant, it makes sense to the innate learning mechanism. Students will see the reason for learning and perfecting the practice of the individual steps required to reach their goal.

I hope that this doesn’t seem like a Utopian dream. I know the nature of people and this vision only optimizes one aspect of a societal structure. It does not change people. It only uses our brain in a way more suitable to how it evolved.

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