Monday, April 25, 2011


There's a short article in today's Wall Street Journal describing how American management practices haven't succeeded in improving education. Actually, the results indicate that these practices prove worse more often than better.

I actually haven't earned my living as a scientist, but that part of my education taught me about designing experiments that can shed light on a situation. Those are all based on having a belief and then challenging that belief with as powerful a situation as one can come up with to try to disprove the theory. What most people do, even well meaning ones, is design experiments which confirm their expectations.

My observations of our world is that we are operating on some shaky beliefs, in my opinion. The first is that capitalism is innately good, therefore it produces good results. Even if we don't challenge the value of "good" we are in trouble, because that is a judgment which can only be imposed after the fact. And capitalism is something one starts with; it doesn't show up after something has been done. So, since we believe capitalism is good and therefore it produces good stuff, if we want something good, then apply capitalist tenets.

This leads us back in time actually, to Octavian, the son of Julius Caesar, who assumed the throne of Emperor after his father's assassination. He is the one who first figured out how to make the Roman army scalable. The Regimental system which builds everything as a series of units. This is extremely valuable as a tool to accomplish greater efficiency. This is the prime capability of management. Let's look at what we're doing and figure out how to do it with less material, fewer people and more focus. It is also predicated on measurement. I know I am more efficient when my measurements tell me I am getting equal or better results using the same or less resources. The problem in education is the assumption that I know how to evaluate my objectives. I'm reminded of the old dodge about art. I don't know much bout art, but I know what I like. It's much the same in education. I can't tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it.

Of course, that isn't true either. Education looks different today than it did when we all went to school, whenever that was. The importance of things change over time. And today everyone has more education than ever. So the accumulated information I have isn't as valuable as it used to be. What's more valuable today is my ability to collaborate with other educated people to pool our knowledge and experience and produce some thing that's more than twice what one of us could have done. But how can that be measured?

It appears that the new education needs to be based more on social intelligence and our ability to work together than how much each of us knows individually. That's how people work today. It's also helpful to think along those lines to be a partner, parent, spouse, lover, sibling , friend.

We are social animals and we need to become better at that. Life isn't really any easier, but in today's America, survival isn't the primary issue for most of us. We need to think and act like people who are already survivors.