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Overemphasis on Numbers

January 21st, 2015 | Posted by pftq in Society | #
This is primarily a response to Erik McClure's blog post on age discrimination.

I'm of the same age, followed a roughly similar path through school, and also thought that young adults in general were fully capable if given the chance. I've since graduated and moved to the SF Bay Area though; you'd be surprised just how many new college grads actually cannot think freely and critically. I'm sure you must have seen at least a few headlines pointing out some of the absurdity in Silicon Valley now. (Having lived here for 6 years now, I'd say the media actually understates how nonsensical some of the thinking around here is, but that's for another discussion.) That's not to say we should box people up even more when they're younger, just that I can see where some of the prejudice is coming from (yet it can be argued that it's a self-fulfilling prophecy from treating people like drones in the first place).

Speaking on just my own experience in the SF Bay Area though, my thoughts are not so much that the issue is a prejudice against age as much as the issue is an overemphasis on credentials, test scores, and numbers in general. The problems with education today are what I personally see more as part of an overall lack of critical and creative thinking in society - too much data driven. People just want to look at some threshold, do an if-greater-then condition, and be done. If you look at some of the most talented programmers, as an example, many actually do not have a formal degree in Computer Science or are self taught; recruiting based on numbers like we do now would never find them and actually weed them out. On the other side of things, I've met engineers from Ivy League schools who can barely code but get the job nonetheless from great marks in school; some cannot build a program from scratch at all unless you give them the skeleton to fill in the details on, which is arguably the bulk of the work.  I've come across engineers from firms as prestigious as Google who would not even dare explore restaurants without some external confirmation of their decisions, justifying their decisions with "social validation" (their words, not mine); there's actual fear in their eyes at the thought of going somewhere that doesn't have enough Yelp reviews, fear of the uncertainty and making any decision not backed with numbers. Of course, this is flawed thinking, lots of appeal to majority, authority, and other fallacies, but the sad part is a lot of our peers who do this most likely are not even aware of what things like logical fallacies are (in a non-math context). If you've read books like "City and the Stars" or "Childhood's End", it is getting quite close to that at least in some pockets of the country.

I agree with the comment that you can only inspire innovation. It's not just that you can't legislate it, it's that to some degree you really can't teach it either. You can only create the opportunities for the students to teach themselves. What I've come to notice is that many of the most thoughtful and talented people I meet did not actually have much support when they were younger; they had to largely direct themselves. To build on your points, it's not that we necessarily need more punishment or that we're too lax, it's that we need to back off - provide the opportunities but not hand hold or micromanage every step of the way. It's not that we want to let people fail, it's that we need to let the chips fall where they may; not everyone will be a doctor but it doesn't mean they won't lead just as fulfilling of a life. There would be less people doing things because the system told them to and more people pushing forward on their own motivations. To build on the programmer example - more programmers at heart and less programmers in name only.
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