The Education-Industrial Complex – who needs it.

We don’t need it but we will probably keep it for a long time. Like passenger rail roads or public broadcasting or the post office politics will keep public education a drain on the public purse. If there is any area that is ripe for reformation it is education. Using American figures because they are easier to get, the United States currently spends about one trillion dollars on education out of a 15.6 trillion dollar economy. I’m betting that three quarters of the money could easily be saved by doing education right.

To understand old fashioned education, compare mental strengthening to physical strengthening. Suppose you took 30 kids and told them that they should all be able to do: 10 push-ups after one month, 20 push-ups after two months and after three months thirty.  It would be a very wasteful way to teach kids push-ups. No doubt some kids would be able to do thirty push-ups immediately some would improve faster and some would get there but much slower. The most efficient way to get the kids to do push-ups is to show them how to do one and then tell them to come and show you their thirty when they can do it. Then check on them from time to time and help the slow ones.   Something analogous to this can be done with mental training just as it can be done with physical training.

New education is all done on computer. Now we can record lessons by the top teachers in the land. We can add graphics that make the understanding of the lesson much easier. We can watch it twice. Then we can do lessons that ensure that we understood the material. Computers give us the advantage of spaced repetition which is the sin qua non of learning.  Some students will be able to progress very fast, some will take longer but everyone will be able to access the very best teachers. This process is well underway as seen by the plethora of on-line courses. Eventually someone is going to figure out that there is no need for a bricks and mortar school and they will dispense with them entirely. Indeed, why send the kid to college when it is so easy to bring the college to the kid.

Imagine an elementary school room based on the computer education. Parents who don’t home school can still send their children to a school but each kid can still learn at his or her own pace. Some would rocket ahead and some would lag behind but there would be no flunking therefore no over aged kids picking on their younger class-mates. There would be no social promoting either. Kids that lagged behind will just take longer to finish high school but everyone would finish. And everyone can finish. I think one of the worst ways to teach something is to give a 70 minute lecture and then assign homework. With a computer you can give a 5 minute lecture and then a problem set. Then another 5 minute lecture and another problem set and the lectures and problem sets can be repeated until the kid gets it.

The down side, it doesn’t work so well on the B.S. courses but I consider that an upside.  Teachers like to make some comment about teaching kids how to think not what to think. I’ve never seen it. I’ve had lots of teachers try to teach me what to think but I have never had a teacher go over the list of logical fallacies or even say something like “have you ever thought that through to its logical conclusion?” Teachers are like most people, they think they are more important than they really are and they are willing to use the political process for their own selfish ends.

My prediction, we will continue to have brick and mortar schools long after they have outlived their usefulness for the same reason that we still have passenger trains and  the post office and public television.

 

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The death of public transit is already on the horizon.

I live in Toronto, Canada. At the moment the Municipal politicians of Toronto and the Provincial politicians of Ontario are tripping over themselves in the advocacy of public transit.  It is too bad that we don’t have any far sighted politicians. Of course how can we, politics is a environment of survival of the appealing-est. They are forced to appeal to the average voter and the average voter does not think very far ahead.  The death of public transit is already on the horizon.

Computer Controlled Cars

Computer controlled cars are going to start taking the congestion off of our roads soon. Most of the space on roads is taken by stopping room. Stopping room is the one meter per mile per hour that the safe driving books recommend that you leace between you and the next car so that you have enough time to hit the brakes if needed. When we have self driving cars we will have cars that talk to each other obviating the need for stopping room. How more traffic will our roads be able to handle, double, triple? It might be ten times the current volumes.

Computer Controlled Cars will not need to accelerate quickly therefore allowing engines to be much smaller and for fuel consumption to be proportionately less. A computer controlled car will be in communication with all the other cars on the road so it will know if it is able to make that gap because the traffic will let it in.  A car that is driving itself will also mean that there is less hurry to arrive. The driver can sleep or work or what ever. A little electric car whirring along at 50 kmph (30 mph) will be fast enough.

There’s more.

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High Speed Rail is Passe

The best quote I have ever read about the future is Amara’s Law “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”

I don’t know if I have ever read a futurist science fiction story that didn’t have people zipping about in supersonic somethings. In the 60’s it was the Concord and high speed rail that seemed to be the way of the future. The Concord floundered on fuel prices and high speed rail stalled on infrastructure cost. There is renewed interest in high speed rail. Don’t do it people. Just say no to high speed rail. The future will write that wireless internet killed high speed rail.

Bus is making a comeback. How can it be that the transportation mode of choice of the poor is returning as the mode of choice for the middle class. The answer is simply connection. If transportation time is dead time then you want to get it over as soon as possible. The richer you are the more you are willing to pay to not be in your moving equivalent of a prison cell. The visionaries of the past never foresaw the developmental convergence of the telephone the radio and the television in such a way that where you are does not matter very much. If traveling means being strapped into a chair for six hours and being bored out of your mind the if you can change that to 5 or 4 hours then a lot of people would be willing to pay for the privilege.

Contrast that to today. Traveling today is like that old joke about a teenager being sent to his or her bedroom. It is not a punishment when the television and the telephone is there. Traveling is no longer like going to prison. It is more like going to the office or the theater or the proverbial modern teenagers bedroom. Under these circumstances how much is a doubling or even tripling of speed really worth. Almost nothing and definitely not the billions of infrastructure costs. Buses are better than high speed rail. But wait there’s more. Self driving cars are going to change everything.

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