I am here in Berlin, in one of the top-5 nerdiest countries on the planet. Last week I got to spend some time with another global company, a consulting company. There, many nations were represented. Indians and Russians and Germans and Africans and Spanish and Italians. Education came up.
I had always believed that education and the prioritization thereof was cultural — memetic.
That only schools, cities, counties, states, and countries that think learning and academic achievement is cool will ever develop any sustained success in producing tomorrow’s doctors, lawyers, innovators, inventors, scientists, technologists, poets, writers, and business people.
I asked an Indian colleague, “all things considered equal, if you received a full scholarship to a top university and your twin won a spot on the national team or a pro team in cricket, which of you would honor the family more?
“Well, the academic scholarship, easily.”
The same thing can often be said of Germany and China, too, and South Korea — even in countries that perform well in the Olympics — that getting into the proper high school, then the right university and then the correct program — most prestigious, often (prestige is King) — is the coolest thing one can do, the best investment of one’s life, even if that results in a quirky post-doc life in a moldy academic program.
This prestige is a general coolness associated with being the best academically. Being at the top of your class. Where being in an astrophysics lab in Heidelberg carries more oomph than being taken into Goldman Sachs after graduation.
The United States biggest issue is that teachers, professors, and intellectualism are not cool. In order for there to be a renaissance in education there needs to be a revenge of the nerds.
This will be increasingly difficult as prices skyrocket and the risk of going into academia proper or into the sciences increases, propelling the desire to only steer one’s goals towards the JD, MBA or MD.
Even with the JD and MD, the enormous financial weight of the degree makes it tough to choose medical research or legal scholarship, to say nothing of rural medicine or legal aid.
Maybe in 10 years, these two super-popular shows will result in a renaissance in Broadway and the space program.
The power of shows such as these are as important as any education program or the budgeting associated. People have to both learn about the arts and sciences and then see and experience cool, interesting, and attractive role models they want to aspire to be like.
Though I didn’t pursue the sciences, per-se, Carl Sagan was essential to my development. In Cosmos, the PBS series, he explored the Universe and both introduced his world to me while also drawing me in and making me like him. Admire him. I didn’t think he was a nerd or a dork, I fancied him awesome.
To this day I do. And so do many scientists my age and a little older. I believe many of them were inspired by him.
Maybe now, Discovery and NatGeo and other shows are drawing people to the sciences, to nature, to being more openly curious and passionate about the world.
The only way this renaissance will occure in the United States of America is if we have a change of heart, of passion, towards optimism, finally concluding that being a nerd, being a geek is the most noble of aspirations in the world.