No… I’m not talking about discrimination, at least not racial or gender discrimination, but about the growing inability of younger Americans, say a huge percentage of those under fifty, to integrate information and knowledge into their studies, lives, and social and economic behavior.
This is scarcely just my personal evaluation. Since my wife is a university professor, and one daughter a secondary school teacher, and two others graduate school professors [one in law and the other in medicine], and all of them interact with others in their fields, the data-base from which I’m drawing is both broad geographically and in terms of fields. And all of them, and the vast majority of their colleagues, all agree on one point – the majority of U.S. students cannot integrate information. They cannot offer a coherent, fact-based oral or written presentation that is both organized and logically supported.
This deficiency goes well beyond education. We have far too high an unemployment rate, and an especially high underemployment rate, in this country, yet we have business after business claiming that they cannot find skilled employees and, often, not even potential employees who can be trained. Why not? Because pretty much every job above the basest form of manual labor requires a degree of information integration.
In the case of students, the majority of them are not stupid, nor are they inherently slow. They couldn’t be with the speed at which they text. But they’ve never been taught how to take discrete bits of information, to evaluate them, and then to integrate that information into their world-view, or even just into their work-view or school-view.
Not only is this lack of information integration prevalent in schools and universities, but it’s now pervading everything, from politics to business to entertainment.
What is overlooked so often today are some very simple points. Without facts to back it up, any viewpoint is just prejudiced opinion. Without knowledge of how a tool works and what its limitations are, the worker who uses it is an accident waiting to occur.
According to poll after poll, around 90% of all Americans are displeased, if not furious, with the American Congress. Yet in the last election, over 96% of all incumbents were re-elected. A little bit of cognitive dissonance there? If you’re that displeased with Congress, why did you reelect the same folks you’re so displeased with? Take your choice – (a) people are incredibly stupid, (b) they can’t put the facts together, i.e., they can’t integrate information, (c) party loyalty supersedes factual information, i.e., most people are illogical, or (D) some combination of the above.
Now, polls show that the majority of voters in any given district/state have a favorable view of their own representative or senator, even when that elected official continually votes against the voter’s declared interests.
As I’ve noted more than a few times, all too many businesses seem unable or unwilling to integrate data and events that indicate that the insistence on higher short-term profits puts them on a long-term course for disaster and lower profits. GM’s faulty starter switch was a perfect example. Saving less than a dollar a car by installing substandard switches in roughly 30 million cars for more than ten years “saved” GM something like $30 million. GM has already paid the National Highway Transportation Board more than $35 million in fines and faces more than one billion dollars in costs, not including additional lawsuits by almost a thousand claimants.
The last thing the United States needs is another generation that is even less adept at integrating and analyzing information, but with schools clearly not being able to teach such skills and the instant-media-communication thirty-second news bite and the growing popularity of Twitter and texting, I’m getting the distinct feeling that information integration and analysis is falling even further behind in the list of skills valued by Americans.