Debate Magazine

No One in the World Knows How to Make a Computer Mouse

By Stevemiranda

No one knows how to make a computer mouse.

Literally, no one in the world knows how to make one.

I learned this fact by watching Matt Ridley’s TED talk titled, “When Ideas Have Sex.” And I think he’s correct. His point is that the CEO of the computer company doesn’t know how to make a mouse. She only knows how to run a business. The worker on the assembly line doesn’t know how to make a mouse because he has no idea how to manufacture the plastic. Etc.

No one knows how to do this, yet millions exist in the world because we’ve created a society in which different ideas can “meet and mate,” according to Ridley. When ideas reproduce in this way, they create astounding wealth.

The opposite is true as well, he says. Self-sufficiency is poverty. When individuals among groups of people work solely for themselves, they don’t develop the specialization of labor that allows them to get really good at something and then trade with their neighbors. The richness and variety of their lives is diminished.

* * *

And so it is with our schools.

Here’s an experiment: try walking into your local public high school and offer to teach something, for free, to a group of students who are interested. You probably don’t want to give anyone a grade and you don’t want to have to send a disruptive kid to detention; you just want to offer your knowledge and experience to teach kids something cool.

Schools aren’t typically set up for this. Schools are set up to be self-sufficient. “Look, that’s what the teachers are for,” someone might tell you. “They’ve got all the knowledge the students will need.”

Which, of course, is impossible. There are an infinite number of fascinating things to learn, depending on what each individual kid finds intriguing. But we’ve set up our schools so that if it doesn’t fall into a pre-established category—you know the ones: English, Mathematics, History, Science, Arts, Health/P.E.—then it’s not relevant.

This is an impoverished view of education.

When the teaching in schools is limited to the teachers in the school—that is, when we create schools that attempt to be self-sufficient—we leave students in poverty. We can’t possibly hope to understand the breadth and depth of the world, because we’re closing off communication with our neighbors and the rest of the world.

When we create school environments that welcome architects and astronomers, comedians and entrepreneurs, and everything in between—when we create schools in which wildly different ideas can meet and mate—that’s when we can create astounding wealth.

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