Always a Solution?

After forty years of teaching at the collegiate level, my wife the professor is getting exceedingly tired of new administrators and presidents who have the “next great idea” or plan or system, but who are largely re-inventing the wheel. Part of that is simply a lack of understanding of the past and failing to take time to learn what has already been tried and worked, at least to some degree, and what hasn’t.

But part of the reason programs and systems are discarded by institutions is because NO program or system offers a “one size fits all” solution. Yet, in the always-chasing-rainbows mindset of too many idealists, politicians seeking votes, and university presidents trying to please legislatures and alumni, all too many good approaches have been tried, worked for a large majority of faculty and students, and been discarded because they weren’t successful enough, because some group didn’t benefit.

The same, unfortunately, is also true in national politics. Despite close to a century of U.S. government programs to help the disadvantaged, while the vast majority are better off, the problems of the poor, and especially the minority poor, still remain. In some areas, one might argue that they’re worse.

All this leads to a question no one, but no one, wants to ask. Is there really a complete solution to such problems? Can all children really learn enough to get a college degree or advanced vocational training so that they can be economically self-supporting with a decent or better standard of living? Can we really come up with effective treatments for all those with mental illness? Can the U.S. military police every foreign conflict that might have an adverse impact on the United States?

Most thinking individuals would answer that there aren’t solutions to such problems that will be universally effective, but everyone shies away from trying to answer the logical next question: What degree of success is realistically obtainable and affordable for a given program or system?

No matter what anyone says, not all children can grow up to be economically and socially self-supporting. Not all those with mental illness or impairment can be treated to make them societally functional. But right now, expectations in so many areas are so out of line with reality and generations of experience and evidence that good programs are saddled with demands for impossible results, and many are junked and discarded because they cannot meet expectations… and another set of administrators, executives, and others must set out to reinvent the wheel once more, usually doomed to fail before they start because expectations demand a physically impossible level of perfection.

3 thoughts on “Always a Solution?”

  1. christoph says:

    Excellent thoughts. I have recently been thinking that the notion governments (or other institutions) should try to rid the world of suffering is quite dangerous. Here in Washington State, our benighted government has just passed a mandate for zero traffic deaths by 2030. Given their track record, I shudder to think how they plan on implementing this unattainable goal.

    Am in the process of putting the finishing touches on a dramatic portrayal of the life of the historic Buddha, and cannot help but think he was onto something: the only solution to the problem of suffering is accepting its inevitability coupled with individual non-theistic development of mental control and wisdom to subvert it.

  2. Daze says:

    HL Mencken: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

    Never bettered as a description of the worlds of business, and particularly politics.

  3. Wine Guy says:

    When I was active duty, I saw this every time there was a change of command or a new XO came in…

    And it isn’t wrong to try something new – it’s wrong to think that there will ever be a ‘one size fits all’ solution. It’s the biggest lesson from history that no person who sets policy seems to learn.

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