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What Would You Like to be Doing?

This humanoid robot is being employed to hunt for treasure in a French shipwreck

I ran across this Guardian article (Reboot: Adidas to make shoes in Germany again – but using robots) yesterday morning and posted it to my Facebook timeline immediately.  I wrote, “The manufacturing jobs that once brought prosperity to many of our towns and cities will not be coming back, if this article represents a trend – and there’s no reason to think it does not.”

There is a caption on the Guardian page that reads,

If robots are the future of work, where do humans fit in?”1

I think this is an interesting question – and it should not necessarily make us afraid.  Why not consider it an opportunity.  If we no longer need the economic contribution of every adult to make our national economies work, then a lot of us, a whole lot of us, will be freed.  I do not make this statement lightly.  Having mostly retired from kmy work life, I have experienced some of the inevitable depression that comes from reflecting on how much my work has dominated more than half of my 60+ years – and I’ve had the most interesting career that I can imagine.  It seems to me that working for a living, as a necessity,  is a bit unfair – not that I would give up any of my time in the field of education. 

Perhaps the more interesting question should be, “What would you like to be doing?”

If the answer is, “Getting stoned and watching TV.”  Then we have a problem, and I have no doubt that this would be a common answer.  Assuming that I am right, I would suggest that one of most important goals of our public schools in the near future might be, assuring that for our students, the answer to that question is something a lot more productive and interesting.

I ran across this article, just minutes after posting this entry: iPhone manufacturer Foxconn is replacing 60,000 workers with robots

1France-Presse, A. (2016, May 24). Reboot: Adidas to make shoes in Germany again – but using robots. The Guardian [London]. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/25/adidas-to-sell-robot-made-shoes-from-2017

Tax-Cuts do Spur Employment…

But it’s not the tax-cuts we’ve been sold.

Tax Cuts

Retirement has given me the time to pursue some of my ongoing curiosities.  Not nearly as much time as you might imagine, but more than I had when planning and traveling from gig to gig. At present, it’s some of the stories we’ve been told to justify laws and actions that benefit, I suspect, only a small portion of the country’s citizenship. I am curious, because I suspect that many of these stories are nothing more than myths.

Take the rash of tax-cuts awarded to rich Americans over the past decades, across the country and state by state. They were rationalized by the promise that rich people, with large corporations, would use that money to build more production — and hire more workers. It makes sense, assuming the the intentions of these rich people.

In fact, and according to a 2015 study by The National Bureau of Economic Research , and reported in The Wall Street Journal, employment is generated more effectively by cutting the taxes of the poorer 90% than the richer 10%. This also makes sense. Poor people will spend their extra income on goods, generating more demand and consequently, more production. Rich people are already spending enough, so they’ll save the extra. One of the paper’s authors, Owen Zidar, wrote,

The positive relationship between tax cuts and employment growth is largely driven by tax cuts for lower-income groups and the effect of tax cuts for the top 10% on employment growth is small.1

It’s a good read,Tax Cuts Boost Jobs, Just Not When Targeted at Rich, by Pedro da Costa.

1 Da Costa, P. N. (2015, 20). Tax Cuts Boost Jobs, Just Not When Targeted at Rich. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2015/04/20/tax-cuts-boost-jobs-just-not-when-targeted-at-rich/

What do they Have to Gain from our Illiteracy?

StockMarket & Employment Data

My questions first: 1) Where are U.S. citizens getting misinformation? 2) What do the liars have to gain by misinforming us?

According to a May 11 Public Policy Polling press release, 43% of voters believe that unemployment as increased during Obama’s presidency.1 In truth, there are more U.S. citizens employed today (April 2016, 5,867,000) than at the highest employment period of the GW Bush administration (April 2008 5,540,000) – this from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The first graph shows a devastating dip in employment during the first months of Obama’s presidency, but that was clearly a result of the banking debacle, which happened before his inauguration.2

PPP’s polls also indicate that 32% of voters believe that the stock market has declined during the current administration.1 Again, this is untrue. Microtrends’ historic charts for the Dow Jones indicate that the previous administration enjoyed a high Industrial Average market index of 15,811 in October of 2007 – only 1,070 points above the value on his first day of office. The highest index during Obama’s two terms was 18,314 on February, 2015 – an increase of 9,329 points above its value on the first day of his presidency.3

Again, Where are U.S. citizens getting misinformation? .. and what do the liars have to gain by misinforming us?

1 Jensen, T. (2016). Ryan Disliked by Republicans; Trump Could Hurt Down Ballot. Retrieved from Public Policy Polling website: http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2015/PPP_Release_National_51116.pdf

2 BLS Data Fander 0.8. (2016). Retrieved from United States Department of Labor website: http://beta.bls.gov/dataQuery/find?st=0&r=20&fq=survey:[ce]&more=0

3 Dow Jones – 100 Year Historical Chart. (2016). Retrieved from Microtrends LLC website: http://www.macrotrends.net/1319/dow-jones-100-year-historical-chart

Extraordinary Learning

A 15 year old Canadian schoolboy, with a fascination for the ancient Mayan Civilization, recently theorized a correlation between the star positions in major constellations and the geographic locations of known Mayan cities. Based on this theory, he used Google Maps to suggest the location of an unknown ancient city. The Canadian Space Agency was so impressed that they used a satellite-based space telescope to study the spot and confirm the existence of the hitherto, unknown city. 

In my work I ran across many ordinary youngsters who — with access to technology, supportive teachers and unconstrained curiosity — did extraordinary things. It all begs for a more empowering and imaginative way of educating our children. 

Why We Need to Rethink Literacy

C02 TCP social media image 97
From the Consensus Project

97% of scientific papers written by climate scientists state the position that global warming is caused by human activity.  This is not a secret.1 Yet, according to a 2008 Gallup Poll,2 questioning people in 128 countries, only 49% of U.S. citizens believe what these scientists are telling us.  That’s a smaller portion of the population than 86 other countries.3

My point is this.  What we typically think of as literacy and what’s taught in schools, needs to expand.  In the age of Internet, social media and 24 hour news, literacy is no long just the ability to read and comprehend.  It is equally critical that the literate be skilled and inclination to detect if what they are reading is intended to inform their behavior, or manipulate it.

1 Cook, J., Nuccitelli, D., Green, S. A., Richardson, M., Winkler, B., Painting, R., … Way, R. (2013). Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature (doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024). Retrieved from Environmental Research Letters website: http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024/pdf

2 Pugliese, Anita; Ray, Julie (11 Dec 2009). “Awareness of Climate Change and Threat Vary by Region”. Gallup. Retrieved 22 Dec 2009.

3 Climate change opinion by country. (2016, March 26). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:38, May 9, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Climate_change_opinion_by_country&oldid=711997815

The Next Disruptive Wave in Education

Many would disagree, but I believe that the introduction of new information and communication technologies into our classrooms has had a productively disruptive effect on education. We have certainly not seen its full potential, and reaching it may well be impossible for a human society.  But I’ve recently wondered about a new disruptive influencer on the horizon, one that has the potential to further progress formal education – or destroying it – in my humble opinion.

Consider that even though some presidential candidates have promised to bring back the manufacturing jobs that America has lost to China, the jobs that actually left our shores are a mere ripple, as Matthew Yglesias put it in a recent MoneyBox article,1 compared to the manufacturing jobs we lost to robots during the same years – and those jobs will not return.

And now we have driverless cars, just around the corner?  Sam Tracy, in a 2015 Huffington Post article itemized the numbers of Americans who make their living by driving: taxi drivers, chauffeurs, bus drivers, driver-sales workers, school bus drivers, postal service carriers, light truck deliveries and heavy truck transport.  It totaled almost four million jobs, with wages of almost $150 billion a year.

Will there really be new jobs for them to train for?

Then entrepreneur and venture capitalist, Sam Altman, says this in a recent Freakonomics podcast, that, “..90% of (the) people (may) go smoke pot and play video games, but if (only) 10% of the people go create incredible new products and services and new wealth, that’s still a huge net-win.”2  In other words, is there a national economic need for 100% employment in the near future, or even 15% employment – besides what Altman refers to as a “..puritanical ideal that hard work for its own sake is valuable.”

All this is to suggest that the job of schools, sooner than later, may be to educate our children to be unemployed.  Consider the recent media interest in the concept of basic income.  Here is a Google Trend graph of the frequency of the term’s searches.

Google Trends  Web Search interest basic income  Worldwide 2004  present
Google Trends - Web Search interest_ basic income - Worldwide, 2004 - present.jpg

In the most general terms, basic income would have the federal government handing out to all citizens enough money to live on.  Those who want more would work for a wage. Those who do not, would find some other way of spending their time.  Experiments are already underway in Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland & the UK.

Even though I suggest an open mind, I do not want to spend this blog post arguing the merits or dangers of such an arrangement.   What I do want to ask is, “What would you say to a student who says, ‘I don’t need to know this because I don’t need a job?’”  What if he is absolutely right?  The next question is “What would he or she need to know for a future that does not require employment?” and “How might preparing our children for productive leisure change the WHY, WHAT and HOW of formal education?”

What do you think?

Coincidentally, this article, Machines Won’t Replace Us, They’ll Just Force Us to Evolvepopped up in my Reddit stream just minutes after submitting this blog post.

Yglesias, M. (2012, November 19). Nothing Will Bring Back Manufacturing Employment [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/11/19/global_manufacturing_employment_is_in_decline.html

Weller, C. (2016, April 19). A Silicon Valley entrepreneur says basic income would work even if 90% of people smoked weed instead of working [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.techinsider.io/sam-altman-praises-basic-income-on-freakonomics-podcast-2016-4

Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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Books Written

Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
2nd Edition (2012)

Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
Classroom Blogging
(2007) • Lulu
• Amazon
Raw Materials for the Mind

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