Looking in the Wrong Place

Today, in the United States, we have a tremendous amount of anger, most of it because people feel disenfranchised in some way or another, but despite this anger, and the efforts of people on both sides – often misguided and sometimes merely oppositional – almost nothing significant in a structural sense is being accomplished, and when something is, it takes much longer.

There’s a fundamental reason why, as illustrated by an old anecdote. A drunken man keeps circling around a street light on a dark night, muttering, “Not here… not here.” A police officer arrives and asks what the man is looking for. The man replies, “My keys. I can’t find them.” “Have you looked anywhere else?” asks the officer. “What’s the point?” replies the man. “I can’t see anything where there’s no light.”

Every statistic about the U.S. education system indicates that it’s failing the majority of high school graduates. Yet a huge amount of rhetoric and funding is devoted to increasing the number of high school graduates, as well as the number of college students and graduates. The numbers of graduates aren’t the problem, despite all the “light” focused in this area. The most important problem is that the majority of those graduates aren’t learning what they need to know. While study after study shows that basic learning patterns and abilities are acquired in early childhood and primary school, the emphasis remains on high school and college, despite the fact that, if solid basic reading, writing, and mathematical skills aren’t learned before puberty, the vast majority of students who don’t acquire those skills by then will be handicapped permanently for the rest of their lives.

Immigration is another significant problem, but history has shown that walls don’t work, not when the immigrants face near-certain death in their own country and not unless every foot of your wall is manned with armed soldiers who will shoot to kill. That’s enormously expensive, in more than a few ways, and it doesn’t work over long periods of time. If you’re willing to shoot, it would be more effective to remove corrupt governments in the countries from where the immigrants are coming. If you don’t want to do either, then you’d better find a way to teach and employ those immigrants, because the solution to the problem doesn’t lie in all the “light” at the border.

The current COVID situation illustrates the same pattern. We know who is getting vaccinated and why, but we avoid truly shining any light on the unvaccinated, under the rationale that they have the right to remain in the darkness, even though that darkness is where 97% of the new cases are occurring.

In all these instances, as well as others, we spent too much time in the existing light, rather than lighting the darkness.

1 thought on “Looking in the Wrong Place”

  1. Darcherd says:

    You are spot on around the key issue behind immigration: As long as conditions in an immigrant’s home country are worse than the journey to and reception on the destination country, they will immigrate. Or, as one mother in El Salvador put it explaining why she sent her teenaged son alone to try to reach America, “I told him that if he stays here he will have to choose whether or not to join a gang. If he doesn’t join a gang, the gang will shoot him. If he does join a gang, another gang or the police will shoot him. But if he goes to America, no one will shoot him.” Short of actually machine-gunning illegal immigrants on the border (which would mean America is no longer America) it’s hard to imaging what America could do to combat that kind of incentive.

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