What is the purpose of education? In another era, you might
have said: self actualization, the need to know, and/or to
become a responsible citizen in a democracy. Today’s answer
seems to be : to make money. Children born in poverty feel no
need for an education because they see no link between education
and making money. Education is seen as a lengthy process with no
immediate profit, and it is deemed unessential.
The models the children see are drug dealers who make quick
profits illegally on other peoples’ misery. They see managers of
American industry who make quick profits legally by neglecting
the future of their companies. The first thing these managers do
to make themselves look good is to abolish the research and
development operations because the profits from such activities
are not immediate. These companies’ products eventually become
obsolete and uncompetitive, but by then the managers have moved
on, leaving the wreckage behind.
As far back as Thomas Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, our
government has taken the long view and invested in the future.
Under President Franklin Roosevelt policies were formed to
support scientific and technological research. The emphasis was
on the long-range benefits to society, and those who formed these
policies placed great faith in the initiative of the individual
scientists and engineers.
These policies succeeded. The present hi-tech accessories
of your daily life have their roots in the basic scientific
research done generations ago. The scientists who did that work
could not foresee the practical applications which eventually
came from it, nor can present scientists see the long term
benefits of their labors.
Regrettably, the federal government now is under strong
pressure to abandon the long view. One example of this
phenomenon is opposition to funding for the Supercollider. This
is a very large facility intended to seek fundamental knowledge about the basic particles which make up all matter. Opponents argue there
is no need to learn about these very high energy phenomena because
scientists cannot guarantee any immediate, practical application
for this knowledge. There is no known product that can be
developed from this research right now which would allow the
United States to keep its competitive edge. There may be
products twenty years in the future, but we have stopped caring
about future generations.
That is an interesting message to give to our children.
Only learn about something which makes money immediately.
Obviously, that means they should not study to be scientists
doing basic research. There is just no money in it. If they are
interested in science, they can study it but they should know
that the opportunities for true scientific work are shrinking.
Science for immediate effective consumption is not science, it is
American scientists, who already have made a commitment, may
have to go elsewhere to pursue their work. The United States may
cease to be a fertile environment for people who learn because of
their great need to know. During the era of Hitler, the United
States benefited by the Brain-Drain of scientists from Europe.
If our country continues its present policy, we may begin to
experience a Brain-Drain in reverse. “The Ascent of Man” as
described by Jacob Bronowski will continue, but he cautioned us
that there is no assurance that we will participate in it. We
may be forfeiting our role in this great adventure because of our
devotion to immediate profit.