Ever since I was a kid, I've contemplated how human society could function differently, for the better. I've come up with a lot of naive ideas over the years (I'll bet Mathmom remembers what we came up with back in High School) -- which is fine because figuring out why a given solution wouldn't work helps you to hone in on a good solution. I assume many of the rest of you have spent time on the same problem, especially if you like science fiction. I've never liked being limited to the capitalist/communist dichotomy, as though no new possibilities or ideas have flowered over the past half-century -- despite how dramatically things have changed in that amount of time.
I'd like to ask you to pause a few moments (step away from the computer, if necessary) and think about ideas you've had about how society might be different. When you're done, please come back and read my new idea.
OK, here's mine:
All adults get one half-day of education per week for their entire lives.
Here's how it works: Each person takes one course per semester (six months), and the course can be anything at all that could potentially be offered by a university or a community college or even a vocational school. This would include subjects like art, music, and sports (even extreme sports) in addition to standard academic courses. The only restriction would be that you can't take more than three semesters in a row in the same broad subject area (eg. once you take three semesters of sports or three semesters of science, then the next semester you have to study something else). Anyone who employs anyone else would be aware that every employee requires one half-day of release time per week (in the same way that they are now aware that employees must be documented and have social security tax paid on them, etc.).
This came to me while contemplating the current U.S. health insurance reform debates. I think that a good government needs to be "of the people, by the people, for the people" (because rulers and oligarchs tend to see their needs/interests as outweighing others' needs, even when they sincerely believe they're being fair), and a functioning democracy or republic depends on an educated populace.
Education is one of the farthest things from a "zero sum game" there is. If one person gets a lot of it, that takes nothing from the big pot of education that's left for others. If anything, it increases the big pot, because if your friend learns something, she might find it interesting enough to tell you about it, and then you might learn something to and/or feel motivated to learn more on your own.
I'm discouraged to see the trend in the U.S. of viewing education as "every man for himself" and as long as your own kids get some, then screw everybody else. You (and your kids) have to live in the same society with everybody else's kids. (As an aside, I often wonder how much good could be done if all those people who home-school would instead send their kids to public school and then invest that same amount of time that they now spend home-schooling on improving the public school instead.)
In addition to the benefit from the education itself, my plan would have further advantages:
1. Linking the campuses would be a boon to developing viable public transportation. One of the problems with setting up a public transportation grid is that you need to have common destinations (as opposed to having all of the start and end points diffused over a large area). With this system, you just go to whichever campus is nearest to your home or work, and from there take a train to whichever campus offers your class. (Naturally the class itself would be less than half a day, to allow time for transportation.)
2. People would constantly be meeting people outside of their socio-economic-racial-cultural group (and making friends, since they'd be meeting people with common interests), which would diminish racism and classism, helping society to function more harmoniously.
3. The society would be more responsive to changing labor needs. If a given line of work starts becoming obsolete and some other skill is desperately needed, then the change in demand could be swiftly met by a change in the labor supply.
Naturally the biggest drawback to this plan is that the United States of America cannot afford to do this. And that's not to even begin with the political reality (that apparently a big portion of the American public would rather continue to be royally ripped off by the world's most expensive healthcare-payment-bureaucracy -- as long as that bureaucracy will reassure them that nobody will get something for nothing). Unlike health insurance reform, universal socialized adult education would cost a lot more money than it saves. And I'm sure I don't have to review for you what state the U.S. economy and treasury are in.
I'm just saying, if it were possible, what a wonderful world this would be!
Now, you've probably noticed that my plan says nothing about economics or about how to deal with the energy crisis. I have more about energy coming up (from a book I'm currently reading), and as for economics, well, as I said here, I should have taken more courses in economic theory. (Maybe I could, if only my utopian fantasy were a reality!) In other words, I'm open to suggestions.