31 December 2009

Solving the Last Problem: Schools and the TSA

Soon, if you are flying in America, you will be walking through the security arch naked while your underwear is scanned alongside your shoes.

This may have some social benefits. Americans will be forced to be less uptight about "sexual imagery" in advertising, in movies, on TV, if we get to see it all simply by purchasing a round trip ticket to Indianapolis. We might also see more dating resulting from casual travel encounters. And certain politicians might choose to fully fund Amtrak as an airline alternative after a lifetime of opposition.

But surely, it will not make anyone any safer.

Nor will shutting off airliner seatback GPS maps, taking blankets away from sleeping babies, or limiting restroom use.

Just as the x-raying of a couple of billion shoes since the "shoe bomber" got caught has not made anyone safer.

But that is not simply to say that the Obama Administration often seems no smarter than the Bush II Regime. It is also to note that the bizarre decision-making which often wrecks our schools is something which runs deep in our society.
"Call them Jihad Jockeys. These are the explosives-packed underpants worn by Umar Farouk Adbulmutallab when he tried to bring down a flight over Detroit - and managed only to set his crotch on fire. The frighty whities came with a special pouch sewn by al Qaeda's finest seamstresses. In it was a condom packed with 80 grams of PETN, a compound that's a key ingredient in the plastic explosive Semtex. The suicide bomber tried to set it off by using a hypodermic needle to inject it with a powerful acid, while trying to hide his actions by putting a blanket on his lap. The photos of the undies, obtained by ABC News, show they were only singed in Abdulmutallab's failed efforts to send the Airbus 380 careering to the ground. It was not immediately clear what the underpants were made of." - New York Post
We operate reactively in our "planning" for almost all things. At our airports we are working really hard to stop the 9/11 Hijackers, Richard Reid, and now Umar Farouk Adbulmutallab. We are so caught up in preventing those past actions that we are completely incapable of preventing some future attack.

We see this because nine years after 9/11 we haven't bothered to link our intelligence systems together in ways which might have blocked
Adbulmutallab's US Visa rights, or created a quick check of cash-paying airline passengers. Of course we haven't done this, we've been searching the shoes of grandmas and babies - millions of grandmas and babies - and that is expensive, time consuming work. Work which blocks the ability to do other work. Real work.

MSU Professor Yong Zhao on solving last generation's problems

We do the same things in schools, of course. As Yong Zhao points out, our entire school curriculum push right now is designed to help our students "catch up" with the Japanese students of 1970 who were producing excellent Datsuns while we struggled to produce Vegas. We put endless energy into preventing students from "cheating" on tests so worthless that the ability to cheat on them is actually more educationally relevant than the test answers are themselves. We adopt "zero tolerance" policies to prevent the last crisis at some other school. We use research studies completed five years ago, in an entirely different technological world, to plan for how our schools will work five years from now.

In a few hours we will be in the second decade of the 21st Century, this seems to be an excellent moment to consider that no one successfully plans for a future by being bound entirely by past experience. Whether we are making air travel safe or schools relevant, we will only do things of value if we place the future at the center of our thinking.

Because once we've pushed "the terrorists" beyond the underwear bomb, we need creative thinking to meet the next challenge. The answers will simply not be, A, B, C, D, or even, E.

Happy New Year - Ira Socol

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