One more week

in sunny Southern California, and then it is back to the dark cold of Copenhagen. Actually, even though it is in the teens here (and could get up to 24), I am a little on the chilly side.

Hey look, the back of my mug made the Glendale Newspress (at 7 o’clock). I had the great opportunity to observe and talk with several talented and motivated high school students about ethics and leadership. It was inspiring to see so many young people interested in becoming better people all around. One thing that struck me was the intense pressure all of them feel about being the best at everything in order to get into the best university. “Even the state schools won’t even look at my transcript if I don’t have a 4.0, or am in the top 1% of my class,” many said. Some of the students admitted to taking 5-6 advanced placement (AP) courses (which give one partial college credit), while at the same time participating in several sports, and association responsibilities. How does anyone like that have a well-rounded high school experience?

Education is big business in the US, and with all the advertisements of higher education and their tone, it is no wonder many people have the idea that getting a degree entitles one to a job; and if said job does not appear, then take legal action. People are led to believe everyone must go to university in order to be financially successful. Even certain subjects are more favored than others, and with the recent $500 million cut from the UC budget, we will see which subjects are worthwhile and which are not. (Is there much patentable work in the humanities?) College preparatory courses are also big business, promising to give one a competitive advantage by teaching to the test, which I think describes the state of lower education of the entire US with the “No Child Left Behind” act. Money is so much of an obsession in the US culture that there is scant room for anything else, such as ethics, or knowledge for knowledge’s sake. What about getting an education because it makes one more informed about the world, one’s place in it, and because one’s chosen subject is fascinating? How about because it is fun and challenging? It is not for everyone; and I would also say it is not for anyone wishing to become a billionaire based on the vanishingly small frequency of college graduates that have become billionaires. But hey, people still play the lottery.

I was asked at lunch and after by several people about my life in Denmark as an assistant professor. (And throughout the day I was asked, “Did you come all the way from Denmark for this???”) After saying I was very happy in Denmark, with lots of time to work with interesting students and colleagues and topics, with free health care, free school, six weeks of paid vacation, etc. etc. etc., they asked, “But you pay really high taxes right?” Yes, and so what? My life ain’t about money, and I am not living under a bridge heated by a fire in an oil drum. The Danish government is one of the least corrupt in the world, and bribery is extremely rare. Now, if I can just get the language down!

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