Complacency and educational attainment

Short and sharp today – much to do. Tyler Cowen’s upcoming book, The Complacent Class, is so timely for me because it’s a book that comments on something I’ve been observing and thinking about for a long time – our cultural complacency. Call it a curse of affluence, call it arrogance, call it diverted attention. Whatever it is, it’s a thing. It’s present. I see it in the classroom, whether it’s students coddled and kept away from the world, rendering them unprepared for life, or parents not sufficiently valuing education. Perhaps it’s a product of our material situation – necessity is a major driver of human energy and production, and abundance has, to some extent, sapped us of our drive. Millennial podcaster Megan Tan stumbled across this in her fascinating episode on affluence and privilege. While privilege has benefits, it also has costs, and lack of drive is one of them. Privilege is not black and white.

Research tells us that motivation and engagement is critical in learning, yet so much concern in education relates to what the government or teacher can do. Instead, sometimes we just have to help ourselves. The path forward is self-improvement as much as it is institutional improvement (or what Yuval Levin described as ‘taking the long way‘ to liberty).

Bottom line: complacency seems to be an unmeasured (ie residual) cause of stagnant or falling educational attainment.


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