Monday, December 05, 2005

Kids these days

Ok, so I'm 20, I still am a kid, I'm not even old enough to drink legally.
so why am I complaining about kids these days?
It's not the young kids (though they don't look to be any better), it's people my age. Specifically it's Americans my age. Specifically they don't seem to value education. I'm not talking about training, they value that, learning salable skills. However education is not about getting a salable skill (though that helps) it's about preparing yourself for life. There is a lot more to that then any school can teach, however what you can learn in school is how to think. Learning shouldn't be about memorizing facts because facts can always be looked up. Learning is about understanding concepts, and that concept a distressing few students at my university seem to understand.
Part of the problem is that it is so much easier to test memorization of facts then understanding of concepts that students are rewarded for memorization. This starts long before college, in overworked and overpopulated public schools, but the effect is that in college many students worry about grades, not as a means to an end, but as an end themselves. Most students (and parents) are so focused on getting a job after college that they miss one secret of long-term employment (this I admit to having no first hand experience in), learning how to learn.
One example I can think of where this is especially obvious is the computer programming industry. Thousands of college graduates are given a vocational course in (now mostly) Java programming, without really understanding how a computer works, or any of the theory behind the language they are using (sometimes resulting in terrible code). Many can't even compile their code without using their fancy IDE. They'll do fine for a few years, but what happens when Java falls out of favor (and it seems the one constant of the computing industry is that everything falls out of favor)? If they were really prepared they would already know a whole bunch of languages and all the concepts needed to learn a new one quickly, so they would have no problems.
This isn't really meant to be a rant on the sorry state of most computer science majors (there are plenty of good ones, but the number of bad ones is so much higher), as this same idea applies to many other fields. A sad commentary is that the first thing I am usually asked when I mention that I'm a physics major is "What do you want to do with that?". I always respond that I think it's interesting, I'm not worried about a job because there will always be a place for someone who knows advanced math and computers. I'm not even going into the societal effects of not challenging the mind and the profusion of sloppy thinking.
Anyways, thanks for reading, and challenge your preconceptions some time.

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