What’s Left? – Core Values

With much discussion over the revised Core Curriculum, some of the established classes have been criticized. Claims that Western Traditions is too archaic and The Challenge of Modernity too amorphous abound. Similarly, the Core Cultures and Scientific Perspectives requirements have drawn unwarranted fire, as well. I find these claims wholly ludicrous, especially considering the world we are moving into as students and citizens. To be globally relevant in the future, knowledge of far off places and understanding of nano-scale processes will become paramount.

With ever increasing technological progress, those that can take advantage of novel devices will reap the most rewards. The commonly used example is President Obama’s use of technology in facilitating campaign events and organization. However, it doesn’t end there. Ten years ago a phone was a phone. Now, a phone is a real-time GPS, a calculator, a readily available method for sending emails and buying stocks, as well as a device to put music on. For a more pressing concern, satellite photography is advancing to resolutions that were previously unimaginable; people believe government satellites will be able to read newspaper headlines from space within years, if newspapers are even still around then. Moreover, a thorough understanding of empiricism and analytical methods will be critical as science advances. The amount of people swindled every year by matchstick men is at best disappointing. The myth that adding mothballs to an engine to increase efficiency was a ploy used during the oil crunch to make money. However, there are much more serious falsehoods, such as the idea that AIDS is not caused by the HIV virus. All of these pernicious claims can be avoided through careful consideration of causality and correlation.

As is being accepted in most quarters, the world is flattening. Global competition for jobs is ever prevalent. For instance, some doctors in the United States are witnessing people seek outside opinions on health, and not just from Canada, but from places as far away as India. To address the globalized world, people who want to excel will have to be cognizant of foreign values and traditions. Just recently, Texas Representative Betty Brown inquired into the possibility of Asian-Americans adopting names that “we could deal with more readily here.” It is impossible for this country to stay ahead of the curve with such inane thoughts coming from public officials. Understanding other cultures has implications not just for global jockeying, but also for dealing with “rogue” nations such as Iran. So often the country is treated as a static place where the majority simply follows lockstep with President Ahmadinejad. Not only is there a division of power in Iran, the youth of the country doesn’t side with the President’s oft asinine comments. This is not to say that the populous is overly friendly to the United States, however, it does mean there is the possibility of developing diplomatic relations.

Clearly we need an understanding of both science and global cultures. I can understand Katie David’s frustration with someone not knowing what Mecca is or its relevance in one of the major religions of the world. What seems to be lacking, though, is a drive for progress. In The Colgate Voice, an author wrote a well-reasoned article on why we should allow drilling off the shores of the United States. However, the piece ended in a rather uninspiring way. In the last sentence, alternative energies such as wind and solar were derided as some fantastic futuristic concern and not feasible in the “short term.” The problem is that we continue to treat many attainable achievements as some far-off goal. With the knowledge and the will, some alternative energies could be mainstream in a dozen years. We landed a man on the moon in ten years precisely because we didn’t say we will get there “someday.”

As such, we have to embrace new technologies and new allies. To do this we have to respect and understand the value in basic and applied research. We have to communicate with others in ways that don’t involve carrot and sticks. Finally, all our young talent does not have to end up in finance; an influx of youth into diplomacy and service can only be beneficial. In the past, the prevailing wisdom in the scientific community used to be that intelligence was derived mostly from genetics; however, new results are suggesting that intelligence can be cultivated. In other words, solutions and progress can increase in markedly non-linear ways — if we want.