Suzanne Fields

We have to forget about the end of history. It's the end of economic ideology as we know it that requires thinking outside the box. With conservatives cheering, or at least tolerating, big-government bailouts and more regulation of what was once the free market, and liberals conceding that this is no time to expand government-funded programs dear to their hearts, we're in a shake-up, not a meltdown.

History records many examples of ideologues blatantly contradicting themselves and forced to stop preaching and start acting. That pesky devil who hangs out in the details often forced a change in direction. Famous Stoics proud of their emotional discipline would turn on the waterworks when confronting personal tragedy. Baby boomers -- radicals in the '60s who reveled in the gratifications of the sexual revolution and vowed never to trust anyone over 30 -- became tough disciplinarians when their sons got the keys to the family car and their daughters hit puberty and junior high school. Specifics always trump theory.

Football coaches teach their athletes to adhere to the game plan, but they expect a good quarterback to know how to chuck it and call an audible at the line when an unexpected opportunity requires a different strategy. No size fits all, and both physical and mental training require flexibility. The strongest tree bends in the wind. (A good defensive line bends but doesn't break.)

This sounds like Conceptual Thinking 101, and it is -- but we're faced with a technological revolution that offers no intellectual solutions to deal with problems outside narrow familiar frameworks. That can be deadly. When you fear for your pocketbook, economic security and a roof over your head, it's difficult to focus on the subtler dangers, but that doesn't mean they'll go away.

The shortcomings in the way our children are taught to obtain information doesn't have the urgency of an imminent Wall Street crisis, but how we respond to radical changes in how we learn about the world will gravely affect the ability to seek solutions in the future.

Mark Bauerlein, in his book "The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future," describes the current model for educating our children as "information retrieval, not knowledge formation." An elementary school principal tells him that fifth-graders typically assigned to research for an essay will "go to Google, type keywords, download three relevant sites, cut and paste passages into a new document, add transitions of their own, print it up and turn it in." You don't have to be a Luddite (though you may feel like one) to realize that computers, wondrous as they are, can short circuit the thinking process needed to solve unexpected problems.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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