Russell and Duenes

Some Musings: War on Sugar Drinks, Why Companies Fail, Change in Education or the Lack Thereof

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Doubtless you’ve heard of NYC Mayor, Michael Bloomberg’s, demand that no one be allowed to sell sugar sodas in NYC larger than 16 ozs. I don’t doubt that a 32 oz. “Big Gulp” of Dr. Pepper is not the “breakfast of champions,” and we’d all do well to avoid drinking much sugar soda in general. But the problem here is that Mr. Bloomberg’s demand is another example of the people who take themselves to be “enlightened,” such as Bloomberg, deciding that they “know better” than the average stiff what’s good for people, and by golly, these enlightened folks in government are going to coerce us into the “correct” behavior. What’s worse is that such coercion is now being touted as necessary to our evolutionary advancement as human beings. Daniel E. Lieberman, Harvard professor of human evolutionary biology, has stated that “Mr. Bloomberg’s paternalistic plan is not an aberrant form of coercion but a very small step toward restoring a natural part of our environment.” That sounds nice, but what does it mean? Lieberman concludes: “We humans did not evolve to eat healthily and go to the gym; until recently, we didn’t have to make such choices. But we did evolve to cooperate to help one another survive and thrive. Circumstances have changed, but we still need one another’s help as much as we ever did. For this reason, we need government on our side, not on the side of those who wish to make money by stoking our cravings and profiting from them. We have evolved to need coercion.” Oh. I wonder what other behaviors that are “for our own good” will need coercing in the future? Want to take bets on what it’ll be? (HT: Dennis Prager)

I wonder if alcoholic drinks are worse for personal health, for familial and societal health and well-being, and for the burden on our healthcare system than large sugar sodas are. Are we banning those? Just asking.

My wife and I agree that Megan McArdle of The Atlantic is a real good writer, and her brief piece in the March 2012 issue – Why Companies Fail – is in keeping with her status as such. She tries to get at the reasons why businesses sit pat and watch their businesses fail seeing innovative competitors steal their market share in plain daylight (e.g., Blockbuster and GM). It’s a great story because it has little to do with business and a lot to do with our nature as human beings. As you may surmise, businesses watch themselves fail without making proper changes because “corporate culture” lends itself to this. People being people, we don’t like to take risks and we like “the way we’ve always done things.” Why don’t we, on the personal level, make changes in our lives that would spare us and the ones we love lots of pain and heartache? Because, as Dallas Willard says, “the sin in our members” keeps us ever ready to do the things we are habituated to doing. We don’t really want to change. Change requires accountability, and we generally prefer to avoid such accountability. It’s no different with business. As the article concludes: “To paraphrase the old joke: ‘How many experts does it take to turn around a big company? Only one—but the company has to really want to change.'” The “wanter” has to be changed.

Speaking of change, the above also can be applied to education. We “blah, blah, blah” about “changing education,” without really wanting to change it. I saw it as a teacher, and I see it in law school. We keep trying to reform education without seriously questioning the structure of our educational model. Somehow we think that God has handed down from on high a rule that says our students must sit in desks in classrooms for roughly 6 hours a day and mostly listen to teachers lecture. We pine away about how our students, particularly adolescent boys, refuse to care and to learn, but the structural changes never come. I submit to you that our students want to learn. Indeed, they love to learn. They learn amazing things about material that engages them (I had a student who couldn’t have written a term paper on the Illuminati with no trouble at all). But I doubt students learn best in our current structure – again, particularly when it comes to boys. Yet the idea that we get them out of the classroom more, into more “hands on” work, more apprenticeship, and into more self-directed learning just doesn’t seem to get traction. So we double down on even more classroom time, more years in the classroom, and more college education for everyone, with continually falling educational outcomes. No wonder homeschooling has been growing by leaps and bounds. Of course, a lot of money is at stake for people who have “skin in the game” to keep the status quo going. I remember having a conversation with someone about some of the structural changes in our private school that I thought we should make. At the end of it, this colleague remarked that if we made such changes, we would not have a school, for not enough people would send their kids to such a place. Perhaps so. But it does make one think: Does “staying in business” justify continuing what we have “always done?” And just who are we trying to “keep in business” when it comes to education? The students?

-D

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Written by Michael Duenes

June 24, 2012 at 11:57 am

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