Sometimes a headlines is more powerful than the story.
Sometimes a headlines is more powerful than the story.
In the Wall Street Journal, Johah Lehrer explores the connections between youth and creativity in the sciences.
For one, he notes the demographic shift toward older scientists:
In 1980, the largest share of grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) went to scientists in their late 30s. By 2006 the curve had been shifted sharply to the right, with the highest proportion of grants going to scientists in their late 40s. This shift came largely at the expense of America’s youngest scientists. In 1980, researchers between the ages of 31 and 33 received nearly 10% of all grants; by 2006 they accounted for approximately 1%. And the trend shows no signs of abating: In 2007, the most recent year available, there were more grants to 70-year-old researchers than there were to researchers under the age of 30.
Where are all the young people? It’s an important question.
But an equally important question–and one that I feel is relevant to proposing ways to change the status quo:
Why are young physicists and poets more creative? [Dean Simonton, a psychologist at the University of California, Davis] argues that they benefit, at least in part, from their willingness to embrace novelty and surprise. Because they haven’t become “encultured,” or weighted down with too much conventional wisdom, they’re more willing to rebel against the status quo. After a few years in the academy, however, “creators start to repeat themselves, so that it becomes more of the same-old, same-old,” Mr. Simonton says.
As we think about how to reinvigorate the sciences, I think it’s important to consider the effects of “enculturing” on a larger social level, too. We see it in middle school, high schools, and universities. Standardization of education may play a significant part in creating this perverse effect. So might our collective attitudes about what education means in this country.
But beyond the ivory tower, we see “enculturing” in the working world. Business leaders and entrepreneurs fight against this very thing. Though one might argue that every new gizmo on the market isn’t “moving the world forward” in the way scientific discovery does, there’s something about the spirit of innovation that thrives in market-driven endeavors.
What lessons can science learn from the world of entrepreneurship, and vice-versa?
An article in today’s Los Angeles Times proclaims: “Not since the 1970s have workers with bachelor’s degrees seen a prolonged slump in earnings during a time of economic growth.
According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, college graduates earned an average of $51,206 last year, whereas high school graduates earned $27,915 and those with no high school diploma earned $18,734.
The average annual wages of college graduates fell during the economic recovery; those of high school graduates rose. Figures are adjusted for inflation:”
|Four-year college graduates||High school graduates|
|2000: $54,396||2000: $28,179|
|2004: $51,568||2004: $28,631|
|Percent change: Down 5.2%||Percent change: Up 1.6%|
Gaps in wages between people of different education levels should alone spark public debate. But in the game of relating education and the job market, there’s a more important—yet less discussed—gap to consider.
An annual UCLA survey of college freshman from 7 years ago found that “a record-breaking 30.2 percent of freshmen feel ‘frequently overwhelmed by all I have to do.’ That compares with 29.6 percent in 1998 and continues an upward trend in freshman stress levels that began in 1985, when only 16 percent of survey respondents reported feeling stressed.” A few months ago, the Buffalo News reported how similar trends extend well into high school. With my high school and college years behind me, but still fresh enough in mind, I can personally remember how students constantly stressed about the “next thing”—exams, papers, applications, deadlines—without much considering how it all might relate to future income. “But that’s not what school’s about,” many say. And perhaps that’s the tip of a bigger, more problematic iceberg.
Though stress is not endemic to education—it’s something we all share in common through different stages of our lives—it can become an indicator of a weakening system. Ever-rising levels of stress in marriages, jobs, space shuttle designs, and schools all share something in common: a need for re-evaluation. By the time the educational snowball rolls from kindergarten to college graduation it carries a massive amount of momentum (17 consecutive years of formal education, for most students).
One would expect that at the culmination of such a development, universities would focus strongly on bridging the transition between the academic world and the working world. I’m not talking about career counseling. I’m talking about designing curricula, requirements, and classes while heeding the question, “Why are students going to college?”
Students spend overwhelming time and energy stressing over their academic lives, only to find that most of their efforts don’t even apply to their post-college jobs. “I’ll never use this in the real world” is a frequently-heard complaint on campus. Universities need to do better at aligning their goals with those of students’ post-graduation lives.
But academia is not solely at fault for the educational goal gap. Ask a recent graduate how her job—the one with a required bachelor’s degree—relates to that very degree. Let me know if you find a good answer. (I still haven’t, and I’ve asked a lot.) Everyone knows that an education is a credential; the danger is that so many students-come-workers cynically view it only as such. When college starts to boil down to a diploma that you need to increase your average lifetime income, you start to wonder what thousands of college students think they’re actually doing in the ivory tower.
The gap beyond wages—the one that demands at least as much openness and debate—is the educational goal gap. What are the goals of the suppliers and demanders of higher education, and are they aligned? Why should students go, and how should colleges serve them? It’s not a discussion to replace that of income. Rather, it should be considered in light of education’s role in the labor market. And not as a matter of academic obscurity. Millions of stressed-out, overworked, underpaid, and unfocused students and graduates tell us we’re in need of re-evaluation.