Steve Jobs, surely one of the greatest innovators of the 20th Century (whom the Chinese honored more than the country he was born in) and easily on par with the great Albert Einstein, never finished more than a semester of college. Bill Gates, who created one of the greatest companies in history and become one of the richest men in the world never graduated from Harvard. Yet, and maybe because of their rivalry, they changed the way the world works.
While many educators, pundits and critics are overly critical of what they did, in some ways they tried to correct the very illnesses they are blamed for. In trying to connect all of us in a variety of ways, what they achieved is seen by many as a degrading of society. I remember hearing Doris Kerns Goodwin speak, who I guess is my favorite historian (if you've never read TEAM OF RIVALS you should), bemoan the fact that no one writes letters anymore. Historians will not know what they were thinking. It was only later and maybe because of the revelations of Google and the NSA, I realized that every email, text message you write is in some data storage bank somewhere, forever. In fact, it could be a treasure trove far greater than anything we could ever imagine. ALL of the dirty little secrets could emerge, or as Snowden has shown, big ones as well.
However, what we have lost is perspective. I don't know about you but when someone talks about something I don't know about, I grab my iPhone, much to my wife's dismay, and look it up. I want to know. How many times have I heard someone make a statement that is well, just not right? A lot. The reason? Because we just don't know. There are thoughts and attitudes that people have, but often they are wrong. We were never taught. If there is any cry that is truer than anything else ever said it was Georges Santana's statement that "Those who forget the past are condemned to relive it." Yes. And we are. Trust me.
An article in the paper recently by Tim Rutten called "Loss of Humanities Shrinks Our Humanity" has been percolating in my mind for awhile. My wife, a 4th grade teacher also complains about the fact the kids are drilled and killed all for the tests they have to take. What they are expected to do is literally regurgitate what they have been taught in math and language. Gone are the arts, music, social studies, even gym as they go through each day, day after day learning facts like robots. What education has failed to realize is that any fact, ANY fact is but a fingertip away. We kill any creativity before it has a chance to blossom.
There is hope. The new common core, something that was di rigor in the 1970's and what made America great is back. Kicking and screaming, schools across America are having to teach ideas, thoughts, connections. It is about letting kids make the kinds of connections that Jobs and Gates made. The connections that made America great.
I would spend hours as a kid reading Colliers Encyclopedia after my parents were conned into buying a set. I bet I was one of the few who read it. I also used it a lot as well. My son at about the age of 5 learned to read from his time in the "time out" corner (he was there a lot) from the Encyclopedia Britannia my in-laws had given us. It was chase him around the house with a wooden spoon or point a finger to the "corner."
It was my reading of David Goldfield's book AMERICA AFLAME that made me realize that for all the reading and education I had, I was not prepared to look at my country from the 1820's to 1876. Each page was a revelation. What was even harder to accept was that the United States was going through many of the very same battles today. True, there is no slavery per se, but the social and monetary issues are the same. I can remember visiting the Ellis Island Museum and realizing, I was stunned in fact, that the room devoted to the immigration of the Italians, well over 22 million from about 1910 to 1920 caused a tremendous lowering of allowable immigrants. Yet if you substituted Mexican or Latino for Italian the words were the same! The 1921 law dropped the quota to 750,000 a year. You had to be healthy or you were put back on the boat. My Opa immigrated from Saxony in 1925 and that very year the quota went from 750,000 to 250,000. In 1926 my Oma, my father and aunt arrived at Ellis Island. I was truly stunned. How did they do it? I even have a photo of them on the boat.
So, the battles we see today over immigration are not new. The Middle East? One historian said the main reason we became the United States of American was to defeat the Barbary Pirates. The first attempt at government couldn't do it, but a united United States could, and did. The irony was that the Pirates went on to Saudi Arabia.
So, it isn't a fact that we don't have the information, we don't know because we were never taught. We were never challenged to consider what happened and why. Until we do, change will never come. That is our loss.