Two Infinities

Mon, 09 May 2005

Flat world, rational choices

Thomas Friedman is sounding the alarm. See here for his interview with Wired Magazine. "Finish your homework, people in China are starving for your jobs." Well, why aren't kids doing their homework? Isn't the country populated by individuals making decisions according to the way they see the world? Maybe kids don't study engineering for a reason.

I rented a room from a math professor in Socorro, New Mexico, in 1976. He had been a musician and a high school music teacher. Then he changed careers and went to NM State U to study mathematics, got a PhD in 3 years, got a job and tenure. I guess NM Tech wasn't very prestigious 30 years ago, and he wouldn't have been renting spare bedrooms if the money were great. But I'm telling you, his life was OK. He didn't need to spend much time on math and he and another prof liked to rebuild classic luxury car engines.

Similarly, I had a friend in southern CA in the late 70's. A 4.0 graduate of USC, he tried for years to make a living as a musician and finally gave up. He studied computer science at UC Irvine for a year (about) and quickly got a job programming. I don't think he was crazy about the work, but he liked the money and liked the theory.

Dave Edwards, a math prof at U of GA, mentioned how he went back to see some of his high school teachers in Queens (I could be butchering this story; I haven't seen Prof Edwards for 17 years) and one, in particular, bemoaned how none of the younger teachers read mathematics journals anymore.

On the other hand, having mentioned Prof Edwards, certainly a free thinker, I should mention he, himself, took a very materialist view of education. The kids are no dummies; they have desires; they see a world in which they have certain opportunities to satisfy those desires; and they are quite rational in pursuing those opportunities.

Unless studying engineering provides an attractive opportunity to those kids, Thomas Friedman has written no more than a jeremiad.

posted at: 22:33 | path: | permanent link to this entry