Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Where is the Balance in Knowledge Use?

Ideas for this post have been on my mind for a while, especially in regard to societal time use choices and a growing need for locally coordinated schedules. However, another aspect of all the present disarray, is dialogue or knowledge use in motion, and the degree to which it continues to splinter and polarize. This morning, Timothy Taylor posted about the hassles of homework, which - for me - does a good job of highlighting some seemingly unrelated concerns. He begins:
I have three children between grades 6 and 10, and I view homework as a plague upon the land. Family time is tight. The hours between dinner and bedtime are few. Weekends are often full of activities. It can feel as if homework overshadows and steals any available down time and flexibility. That said, I have to admit that the evidence about actual amounts of homework tends to suggest that it's not a problem for most families or students. Instead, my suspicion is that too much homework is a problem for one group and too little homework may be the problem for another group. 
Inquiring readers may want to know: what's the connection between homework "or not", and knowledge use in general? Differences in overall levels of high school work, tend to translate into the means of communication which individuals grow accustomed to at an early age: thus carry forward into discussions and reasoning thereafter. When I think back to high school, homework was indeed a small part of the evening, which I nonetheless filled with music related activities plus a once upon a time "passion" for sewing and pattern design. Of course the lack of homework in high school, translated into some quick adjustments in my first college semester - where I learned that homework would be a much higher priority.

As to Taylor's concerns about schedules, I was fortunate in that high school was just two blocks away. Even if a parent wasn't home during midday, timing would not have been an issue. But for many people who are faced with multiple activities in far flung locations, schedules and related logistics problems are very important, now. Whether parents end up late to work because of transportation issues, or students have to cross several busy intersections to get to school, neither alternative presents a very workable situation.

What is particularly striking is this: who - if anyone - is even in a position to address Timothy Taylor's logistics and studies imbalance concerns? If governments and municipalities don't have ways to consider multiple factors in larger context, to a degree it's because they're already stuck with what they've got. Students and parents either have abundant educational resources to the point of seeming excess, or they're left with what may be the opposite. That is...schools which prove insufficient for the level of aptitude needed, for the important public issues of our time. How can any nation's democracy be expected to hold up under such conditions?

Of all the problems that class polarization creates, work life balance and unnecessary IQ sorting are definitely at the top of the list. For some time I had been convinced that problems of economic inclusion and exclusion were limited to certain regions of the country. For instance, rural areas often lack significant knowledge use structure for needed services and economic access. But this quote from a recent article in New Republic made me a bit less certain, for it spoke of some very real limits to knowledge use in a place I didn't expect - Silicon Valley:
In one corner of the American economy, defined by its relentless optimism, where the spirit of invention and reinvention reigns supreme, we now have a large and growing class of highly trained, objectively talented, surprisingly ambitious workers who are shunted to the margins, doomed to haunt corporate parking lots and medical waiting rooms, for reasons no one can rationally explain. The consequences are downright depressing. 
The medical waiting rooms alluded to in the above quote, are in regard to men seeking botox and related medical means for looking younger, so as to maintain economic access. Is not Silicon Valley the place where individuals with initiative and drive can still make a life for themselves? If knowledge use is already being questioned here, then the case I've been making to provide equal time access for knowledge use of all kinds, feels all the more pertinent.

In terms of educational imbalance: what point in "forcing" some schools to increase homework, if a large segment of the population have already been deemed "non-essential" to the economy? As Timothy Taylor noted, the small share of students who have more than two hours of homework in after school hours, has basically remained constant for some time. Looks like there will need to be more places where education can truly be put to good use, before the rationale improves for more educational access.

Of course my readers know how I feel about this. Knowledge use does not do a society a lot of good in the long run if it is primarily limited to the few, who proudly write up the fruits of its use into their histories...until the "fortunate ones" can no longer do so. Then it seems to take hundreds of years before even a fraction of those histories are unearthed again.

When knowledge use is strictly apportioned to a realm where resources separate from time pay its bills, the knowledge which is discarded or discounted, only multiples. And people have to get serious about better dispersal of knowledge use in diverse settings, before they can reconsider the scheduling and logistical nightmares of the present. I know that equal knowledge use portals are not for everyone, nor need they be. But if portals such as these are not ultimately utilized and coordinated, too much knowledge potential and skills capacity will only die another slow and painful death. I, for one, do not want that to happen.

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