NOTE: My statements are not necessarily my opinions. I often post point-counterpoint essays in which I strongly take one side of an issue and later counter that with antithetical views. This intellectual exercise helps me see the merit in opposing opinions and augments my creativity.

Better teachers, better ideas, and a better world

New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie is striving to make teacher pay commensurate with performance. That's obviously great news for students, but it could also benefit me by making teachers more receptive to my methods of increasing intelligence, memory, creativity, and other facets of brainpower.

Although my sixth-grade teacher called me “slow” and I struggled my first two years of high school, receiving Ds in some classes I should have flunked, I serendipitously discovered how to boost IQ and academic achievement. This enabled me to earn virtually all As my last two years of high school and throughout college, ace the MCAT exam, and graduate in the top 1% of my class in medical school. My dunce-to-doctor transformation proved that it is indeed possible to catalyze intelligence.

One might think that school principals and teachers would be beating down my door in their eagerness to learn how I ascended the bell curve of intelligence, but until now, they did not have an incentive to look for outside-the-box ways to make kids smarter and more successful.

Result? Slow kids stayed slow, and better students became somewhat more knowledgeable but not appreciably brighter. Going from dunce to doctor remained a pipe dream. Teachers rested on their laurels, seemingly complacent with modest results, using grade inflation as a Band-Aid to camouflage the fact that our high school graduates are left in the dust by students around the world, including ones from countries that spend much less on education. Throwing money at this problem enriched American teachers but did not remedy the educational deficits. Basic grammar, spelling, and punctuation are like hieroglyphics to countless students, many of whom cannot differentiate “its” from “it's,” solve math story problems, or understand the lessons of history well enough so we don't repeat past mistakes.

Antiquated inside-the-box educational methods cannot produce the outside-the-box thinkers we need to compete in today's world marketplace and political environment. Some of our apparent successes were fueled by artificially generated bubbles, but as those bubbles burst, the hopes and dreams of Americans deflated. Reducing taxes and shrinking government will help, but it is unrealistic to think those inside-the-box solutions can dig us out of the deep hole we're in. Our national debt and unfunded liabilities are so massive that not one economist can suggest a way to solve our economic woes without taxing citizens likes serfs, making them work until they drop dead, or triggering hyperinflation reminiscent of the German Weimar Republic. Unless we are willing to accept a reduced standard of living and forget about the American Dream, we need innovative ideas and the courage to implement them.

“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
Albert Einstein

“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family, have fun, save a little money. That's a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”
Steve Jobs

Great new ideas are usually met with ridicule, not praise. The proponents of the germ theory of disease in the 19th century were mocked by the foremost professors of medicine, who arrogantly opined that all sensible people knew it was laughable to suggest than organisms too small to be seen without a microscope could possibly injure and kill us, but those know-it-all professors were wrong. Dead wrong.

“Little, if any faith, is placed by any enlightened or experienced surgeon on this side of the Atlantic in the so-called carbolic acid treatment of Professor Lister.”
Disruptive Innovation Theory Revisited: Christensen, Hatkoff & Kula
Comment: Had they been more enlightened, they probably would not have killed President James Garfield with their germs.

American automakers fought tooth and nail against seat belts and airbags, preferring to blame drivers for accidents and fatalities.

Pigheadedness isn't limited to professors and automobile manufacturers, of course. In 1905, Orville and Wilbur Wright tried to interest the United States War Department in their new invention, a practical airplane, but they were repeatedly turned down. The War Department initially thought that they were crackpots, and later deemed the airplane to be of no military significance.

When the personal computer was invented, many experts scoffed at its importance, assuredly declaring that only a few isolated eggheads would find a use for it. Even Microsoft and Bill Hates were laggard in appreciating the significance of the Internet and responding to it. Hates once thought that computer users should be satisfied with a C-prompt. General Motors once was the most valuable corporation in the world, but without the bailout, its net worth would now be less than a lemonade stand.

There are two important lessons here:

  1. Success is the mother of complacency.
  2. Many successful businessmen owe their achievements less to extraordinary brainpower and receptiveness to new ideas than to having the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time. Even Bill Hates has acknowledged that he could not replicate his legendary success if he were to start over now. Good fortune is one of the sometimes necessary catalysts of success, but the inherent improbability of luck ensures that its lifespan is limited.

Unless corporations have brilliant ideas to fill the void as luck evaporates, their success will sputter to a stop. The same is true of nations. The ascent of the United States was fertilized by hard work and ingenuity coupled with the courage to go where no man or woman has gone before.

People are now usually afraid to venture outside the safety zone of doing what others have done and saying what others have said. Desperate for the acceptance given to mainstream thought, most people huddle for comfort inside the box. Even some of our best and brightest live their lives without a single novel idea of significance. Think of all our brilliant political pundits, authors, economists, and politicians, who impress folks by dressing in respectable suits and recycling old ideas. Yesterday's solutions are not always the best way of solving today's problems.

“Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”
Albert Einstein

Politicians who advocate higher taxation should be smart enough to propose how to make people less resistant to taxation, or even eager to pay more. Politicians who think we should be satisfied with less should be creative enough to make that palatable, even desirable. Politicians who advocate improving our infrastructure should be wise enough to know that virtually all citizens would be thrilled to invest in a new idea that would transform our nation, rocketing it well into the 21st century, and doing just as much for the physical world as the Internet did for the information world. If we did this, in the end we'd have USA 2.0—a country far ahead of the world in terms of productivity, efficiency, energy efficiency, convenience, and modernization. By reducing our demand for energy, it would also reduce pollution, impressing everyone from capitalists who want more green in their wallets to environmentalists who want more green in their world.

But do we get any of this? Not from our pundits, authors, economists, or politicians, who pat themselves on the back for echoing old ideas, even though those solutions are not good enough to save us from a dismal future, let alone give us the marvelous future we crave. We could have that future, if we begin thinking outside-the-box.

“It is better to shoot for the stars and miss than aim at the gutter and hit it.”
Anonymous

Now it's time to take the gloves off. The United States is failing because voters are enamored with politicians who say the right things and look the right way even if they can do nothing more than spout inside-the-box platitudes. We will not survive as a nation unless we get over our fixation on how people look and sound, and how their inside-the-box ideas fit into the comfort zone we love. We give too much power and attention to the wrong people. They may entertain us and temporarily assuage our anxieties, but they are leading us into an economic pit, not into a bright future.

Worshipping inside-the-box thinking is not illegal, but it does inflict a heavy penalty. Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee and the man who Obama initially selected to be Secretary of Commerce, is talking about possible “bankruptcy for the United States. There's no other way around it. If we maintain the proposals which are in this budget over the 10-year period that this budget covers, this country will go bankrupt. People will not buy our debt; our dollar will become devalued.”

Senator Gregg said that “we’re basically on the path to a banana-republic-type of financial situation in this country” within 10 years. “We're going to undermine fundamentally the quality of life for our children by doing this. […] It will be hard for our kids to buy a car, buy a house, or send their kids to college. The standard of living will drop.”

Inside-the-box thinking will not save our nation and give your children the future they deserve. We will learn to embrace good outside-the-box ideas—or we will wish we did.

“Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible.”
M. C. Escher

An advertising slogan created for Apple Computer in 1997 brilliantly explained how “the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently” who are “crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

POP QUIZ

Q: Assume the United States cut spending so much that we no longer needed to borrow trillions of dollars and were able to generate a surplus of $100 billion per year, all of which would be devoted to repaying our debt and current unfunded federal liabilities. How long would it take to repay what we owe?

A: About 1300 years—a mere 13 centuries! Now for the bad news: that assumes we borrowed money at 0% interest. When you include interest payments, add a few thousand more years.

FYI: Our impossible-to-repay national debt does not include unfunded state pension liabilities, which total $2 – 3 trillion.

The views expressed on this page may or may not reflect my current opinions, nor do they necessarily represent my past ones. After reading a slice of what I wrote in my various websites and books, you may conclude that I am a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican. Wrong; there is a better alternative. Just as the primary benefit from debate classes results when students present and defend opinions contrary to their own, I use a similar strategy as a creative writing tool to expand my brainpower—and yours. Mystified? Stay tuned for an explanation. PS: The wheels in your head are already turning a bit faster, aren't they?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Reference: Imagining dialogue can boost critical thinking: Excerpt: “Examining an issue as a debate or dialogue between two sides helps people apply deeper, more sophisticated reasoning …”

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