Out of Work America and the Automobiles We Drive
Think the economy is in the toilet? Are you or someone in your family out of work and can't find a job? Wonder why? Part of the reason may be in your driveway.
Today's cars are smart. We don't have to figure out whether they need more choke, or if they are flooded. In America, most of us don't even have to know how to shift gears (Europeans are much more likely to drive a car with a manual transmission). I suspect many readers won't even have a clue as to what I am talking about if I mention a spark advance lever, or a mixture control.
I'm not longing for the past. I love electronic engine management, push button start, and variable valve timing. The problem is that we don't learn from our modern cars.
Many young people's technical education begins with the automobile. We learn to drive at age 15. That's prior to any college, technical training, or even the completion of high school. Its also prior to any formal, legal employment. Add to this the fact that today, all jobs -- at least jobs that people actually want -- are either totally or partially technical.
The entire concept of education is one of building on what we already know. We learn addition and subtraction before we learn calculus. It doesn't work the other way around. The public school system is realizing that preparation for college begins in elementary school. A poor foundation is exceedingly hard to build on later.
Furthermore, education is not just classroom training and book learning. Practical, real world experience goes hand-in-hand with what we learn when sitting in a student chair. These two educational parts combine to form a complete understanding and to produce a capable, productive individual.
There's another element that takes part in the effectiveness of education... Motivation. The stronger the motivation to learn, the faster, and more permanent the learning is. For the teenage student driver, the hottie that says "Pick me up at my parents house at 7." is providing some really strong motivation to learn to operate an automobile. It's unlikely that that our teen is going to have the same motivation to learn physics, algebra, or biology -- Uh, I mean classroom biology!
Think what would happen to a child if their elementary school math teacher told them "Don't worry about this mathematics stuff... people don't need to learn it any more.", and never taught any math. By high school, they'd be way behind, and it would likely be very difficult for them to successfully enter and complete college.
But this is exactly what our modern cars are doing to us. They are saying "Don't bother learning about startup fuel enhancement, ignition timing, or gear ratios." "You don't need to know any of that stuff any more." So we don't. And without that foundation, we are behind when we need to learn how to operate, build, or design any large, complex system.
We end up in an era without manned space fight, and the loss of not only thousands of aerospace jobs, but also the non-technical support jobs. We end up in an era where those who have to understand a really complex system like the human body are increasingly from other countries. We end up in an era where a certain company that designs complex software systems has to beg (bribe?) the US government to allow more work visas for foreign workers(1). We end up in an era where complex systems like automated production lines are built in other countries.
When we look at the cars (or sometimes scooters) in these same countries, we brush them off as "old" or "primitive". I wonder if that's a co-incidence?