Thursday, June 2, 2011

Can We Move Away From Short-Term Thinking?

The other day I was listening to a fascinating show on job creation. As we know, job creation is a buzz word for all politicians, whether on the left or right. Most politicians promise lots of jobs and they promise to make this happen very quickly. Where do those jobs come from and how can we really count them? The more you think about it, jobs can be created by giving massive tax cuts or stealing jobs from other geographic places. Once those tax cuts run out, those jobs are usually lost. Also, when another state or area gives a company a better package they flee for a new area. Thus the job "creation" is really skewed and long term planning is ditched all together. In the end, the only sure fire way to create lasting, innovative jobs is to give money to education. The problem with this is two-fold. First, we are cutting funding to education and still promising new jobs. Second, politicians and the population at large jettison long-term goals for short.

This really got me thinking about education. The short-term results are what become sacred in education. Think about the things we measure and hold as infallible in school-- grades, test scores, honors, etc. These are given and taken away yearly, if not monthly. For goodness sake, our very notion of a successful school comes from running tests through a scantron to rank and judge. Those yearly test scores determine so much of the educational landscape.

Nobody measures the students that write emails to teachers five years later saying, "I was prepared or ready for "blank" because of what you taught me." Or the letter that reads "you noticed "blank" when nobody else did. I would not be the person I am today if it wasn't for that." Nope, there is no short-term way to measure those. The essence of much teaching dictates that we may not see the results and impact we have. Yet there is not a score for that. And while parents ultimately want their kids to become happy, successful adults (a very long-term goal), the short-term returns are what everybody highlights.

I believe this is very much a societal problem. Is it exacerbated by the instantaneous nature of technology? I don't know, but I don't think it is the rule. Often little strides are made in order to eventually bang out a dent. Think about those of us who tweet or blog. I am not expecting the schooling system or social norms to shift over night, but I hope that maybe I can put my voice out there and slowly create progress. Is there any way to help others see that long-term thinking is necessary and often merits a greater importance than short-term fixes? I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions.


  1. And how many of check the accuracy of that scantron? I clearly remember one school year's end when I was in our high school's faculty room with a friend who was grading her English finals. She inadvertently ran her key thru the machine and it scored 70%. It turned out the machine was malfunctioning. It was soon repaired, but most teachers had already calculated and submitted their final grades and were unwilling to re-scan, re-calculate and re-submit them. I always gave essay tests, so wan't affected.

  2. This 1987 speech, given by Norman Lear (creator of TV's All in the Family and Maud, and founder of People for the American Way) provides some sound thought on the questions you raise.

  3. I remembered incorrectly. Lear's piece was for the Washington Post, not a speech; but nevertheless, it is something you must read. I'll be very interested to read what you think of it.

  4. Tim,

    It occurred to me last night as I was reading the chapter on Education in Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, that the thesis of his book directly relates to your post on short v. long term thinking. Postman argues that the replacement of print by the quickly transmitted image (beginning with the telegraph and the photo in the mid 19th century) has cut us off from reason and its use to think about the past and to plan for the future. The result, he argues, has been to create a culture where we seek entertainment and amusement in all areas of our lives - politics, religion, and education among others. We therefore have for the most part lost the ability to think and discuss long term. As you read Postman's book for the SSChat book club discussion, I'll be interested to hear if your take is the same as mine.

  5. Just ordered the book and will interested to read that theory