Summer vacation has hit, and I’m finding myself thinking about “big picture topics” with my free time. I seem to spend at least a few weeks a year relaxing outside while reading interesting books and listening to engaging podcasts. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about education in general recently, and I thought I’d share these two interesting nuggets.
#1 – Malcolm Gladwell on Terrifying Young People in College Decisions
I was listening to an episode of the Tim Ferris Show featuring Malcolm Gladwell and the topic of eduction came up. Tim asks the question “what is the worst advice that is given” about any subject in the United States. Malcolm says that it’s how we terrify young people about their college choices. Check out this link to listen to the excerpt—it’s fascinating.
I identified so strongly with this advice that I felt compelled to transcribe a portion.
MG: You should not try to go to the best college you can, particularly if best is defined by U.S News and World Report.
The sole test of what a good college is: is it a place where I find myself late at night having deeply interesting conversations with people that I like and find interesting? If you go where you can do that, that’s all that matters. Am I so inspired by what I learned during the day that I want to be talking about it at one in the morning? And do I have someone who will have that conversation with me and will challenge me? That’s it.
Everything else is nonsense.
So you tell me what that place is. That place could be any of 1000 places in the world.
#2 – My Conversation with Arnold Schnitzer
JH: Working with your hands and actually doing something physical, that’s just something that I think so much or our world has lost touch with. It’s got to be just an incredibly satisfying thing. As a luthier you’re creating something, you’re bringing something into this world, it’s got to be a uniquely satisfying thing. It’s got to be interesting for you,spending all those years in the corporate world too, coming back to that.
AS: Totally, and I’m going to go off on a tangent here, and you might be familiar with Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs. So he’s got a whole blog thing going now about training people for the jobs that actually exist. So I’m gonna go way off base here and talk about for a minute how everyone is taught nowadays: do really well in high school, do great on your SATs, go to college, which by the way is going to put you into insurmountable debt, but let’s not go there, and then get a posh office job somewhere or a supervisor job somewhere or sales or whatever.
The problem is that as technology usurps so many types of occupations, we’re training people—and this is right from Mike Rowe—we’re training people for jobs that are going away and are not coming back. But the jobs that will always be there are the “in between” jobs like, for example, being an electrician, a plumber, an instrument repair person, an air conditioning service person, etc… and Mike is all about training people for jobs that have gone out of vogue but, in reality now, are the only sensible place to work where you’ll have some sense of ability to go on no matter what the economy does.
Our politicians talk about bringing manufacturing back to the United States. Well, that’s not going to do anything. And the reason it’s not going to do anything is because, in the 1960s, if you wanted to run an automobile manufacturing plant, you needed 20,000 people. Now you need 200. You need people to just maintain the machinery and a few people to put the dashboards in and stuff like that. Manufacturing has become automated, accounting has become automated—you can do your taxes now for next to nothing online, even the reading of x-rays and things like that have become either automated or off shored, so I’m all into Mike Rowe’s whole attitude about where we’re going in our country.
There are literally in the United States hundreds of thousands of jobs going begging because we’re too good for them. Meanwhile, these people make a decent living.
Now, you talked about working with your hands, and the only thing I want to say about that is yes, we use our hands in instrument work, but we’re really just using our brains, because the brain is the command center and unless you’re thinking about what you’re doing, your hands will just destroy things. I really feel like it’s an integrated thing to do this kind of work, because you use your hands, your brain, and your experience.
Automation and a Jobless Future
This conversation reminds me of a great book I read recently called Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future. It put forth some sobering statistics about how automation is relaxing not only blue collar jobs but a large portion of other jobs—pretty much any job that can be automated can be replaced with a non-human solution. It’s a heavy topic and worth some consideration, and both Malcolm and Arnold offer valuable perspective on this in the above excerpts.