Why don’t things fall up? Curiosity, innovation, and choosing higher education wisely


While the story of Newton and the apple may be a tad apocryphal, he was watching apples fall when he began to wonder about why they fall down and not up. From that came a series of discoveries, insights and ideas that are still with us today.

One of the planks in the PDD platform is that brilliant ideas don’t always come from the classroom or the lab. They come from inquiring minds with a thirst for knowledge and understanding and, occasionally, a desire to make the world a better place. Not to mention, a need to make a living.

A friend in Connecticut called me this morning about something Steven Covey said: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” We also have to teach our children how to see with the intent to understand.

She went on to say that Harvard received 34,295 applications for the class of 2018 and accepted 2,023. Does that mean that 32,272 applicants will throw up their hands in despair and give up on the idea of going to any university? I sincerely hope not.

Another plank in the PDD platform is that we must not do an inexcusable disservice to our children, ourselves and this country: namely, not providing them with access to hard data and guidance in how to evaluate data about work that must be done that they can do and be paid for. And I don’t mean through a series of less than interactive self-help books. We didn’t bring our children into the world so that we could sit back and watch them run headlong into frustration before life really begins for them.

As proprietors of our education system, we were complicit in creating a set of conditions that caused an estimated 300,000 young Canadians to go to university for 4 years or 6 so that they could work as unpaid interns. Universities may be guilty of teaching subjects that don’t resonate with what the world needs in 2014, but their course calendars are public. Still, students and their parents made choices…

Our children are entitled to satisfy their curiosity and, yes, even make our world a better place than it is−and it could stand to be better. But is it fair for us to set them up for failure knowing all the while how the market and employers view and will judge certain kinds of education? Or do we know how the market and employers will judge? And shouldn’t our children be hearing about the market and employers from their parents and relations while there’s still time to do something about it?

It might help if we introduced the concept of reverence into the discussion of education no matter what the level. Consider how many years of thought and research and study went into that text they’re going to be buying. Within a matter of months, they will have acquired knowledge that accumulated over hundreds of years. What Newton discovered about the motion of planets made it possible to land probes on Mars that are still functioning. So is Voyager.

But not everything is about science or technology. Somebody has to teach our children about music or sculpture or poetry or photography or ethics or philosophy. We have to learn and teach them how to run our communities and countries better. And how to communicate with and understand each other better.

Perhaps the most important plank in the PDD platform is that, in every conceivable sense of the word, our students are our future. When we throw away their chance to be useful, we throw away our future, too.

In my post of March 12th, I wrote about an article in Maclean’s that discussed how, after 50 years, the only way we seem to be able to discuss certain issues is by assigning a value measured in dollars and cents. This was based on a 2006 prediction by economist Nicholas Stern in a report prepared for the British government that the Earth would lose 40 per cent of all species and see 200 million refugees as a result of a worsening climate. In his report, he calculated no monetary value for species extinction or massive refugee influx.

I wonder what monetary value he would assign to the extinction of university students as a species…

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