Friday, July 13, 2012
America's Greatest Treasure Our Youth
America's Last Great Hope, Our Creativity and our Youth
What is America's greatest treasure. I have come to believe it is America's youth and their natural inquisitiveness. Their desire to know how things work and to make them work better. Years ago that creativity was stimulated by the way kids played and how they dealt with the problems that came up. They were encouraged by parents that cared and encouraged them to use that creativity to make things. Today however that source of American pride is in danger of fading into the past. Today America is raising a new generation of vidiots. That is a word of my own creation. To me it is the source of the problem. While it could be a chance for a great leap forward that is not what I am seeing. If you watch TV at all you have seen the clips of people falling in pools, walking into doors and basically becoming video game zombies.
Just recently on a trip I experienced how far it goes. The new generations relate to each other in gamer tech talk and complete strangers can set down and be lost for hours playing games. It is like they are not even present in the room. They are in their little game world. The question is does it further their learning processes. Will it help them fit in, in the world of work. Will it give them skills they can use. I am sure for some it may do that. Yet lots of the ones I see are lacking in basic social skills.
Parents need to do things that foster and encourage creativity. Projects that challenge them to think and produce things that they can use. They need to learn to use motor skills beyond getting calluses on their thumbs. Since I have retired I have had the opportunity to see programs that really make a difference. Every year the shell oil company sponsors an event called the Shell ECO-Marathon. The goal is for the contestants to create and drive a vehicle that runs the farthest distance on the least amount of fuel. The teams are from some of the biggest and best colleges and universities in the nation. Some of them have engineering departments. However high schools can enter also. A few years back I had the privilege of meeting the team from Mater Dei HIgh School in Evansville, IN. It was a very interesting interview and I totally enjoyed it. I came to know about the school when I read about their victory in a local paper. This group of high school kids came home with the gold. In 2008 they cleaned house. They built a car capable of going 2843 miles on one gallon of gas. They have won honors every year they since then. They did not win the overall in 2010 but their record still stands. In 2012 they had a sweep in Gasoline, Battery and Alternative Gasoline in the Prototype Class and 1st in the Urban Concept Car Class Gasoline division.
When I went to visited them a couple years ago they had three adults in the program. A teacher, a mechanic and an engineer. Most all of the work and planning was done by the students. The adults supervised to make sure things were done safely. The interesting thing is that this is an after school extra curricular activity. They do not get any special grades or points in school for participating. Their focus is on reducing drag and resistance. Every where an ounce can be shaved without creating a safety issue it is gone. I was amazed watching them work. While I could probably tell some very neat things I saw. I consider them trade secrets and will not share the details. I am putting a clip from the internet so you can look up more info if you are interested. There are plenty of stories about the event on the internet. Here is a link http://www.greatenergychallengeblog.com/2012/04/03/exciting-races-and-year-of-firsts-wrap-up-shell-eco-marathon-americas-2012
So what got me all fired up three years later. My grandson and I are always saying we are going to my shop and bond. For whatever reason it never happened till this week. Thursday we spent the day at my shop. I started doing crafts and then I asked him. What do you want to do? He said build a car. So that became the focus. We started digging, cutting, drilling and bolting things together and about 2 1/2 hours later we made our first road test. We found some minor problems, but we worked out the details and when he comes back, Lord willing, we will finish it. What I discovered is that if you can do something kids are interested in and help them along they will get involved and do it.
America needs programs like the one at Mater Dei. In 1987 the Shell Eco-Marathon had 23 teams in the event. In 2012 there were 96 teams with a total of 113 vehicles entered in the events. It shows signs of growing more and more. They now have a European Division and an Asian Division. Hopefully America will get on the wagon and see the value of this program. It may help us raise up new talent to create new concepts and technologies that can put America back on the top. It will take the involved leadership and efforts of adults who care. Ones who will get involved and not with just the check book. Ones who will take the time to encourage and motivate the kids to do their best.
I did notice one thing interesting while reading the results and if you look at them you may notice it also. Many of the winning teams are from Indiana and even Illinois schools. What is significant about that? Well Indiana was the heart of the automotive industry when it started. There used to be all kinds of plants all over Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. Many of the companies came and went. Yet every year the greatest spectacle in racing happens on Memorial Day Weekend in Indiana. The Indianapolis 500 is run. A few years back I happened to pick up a copy of the Indianapolis Star and read the special feature on the race. Sadly I realized that not one of the the 33 cars comprising the field were made in America. Most were English Fords. You may say so what, but when a nation no longer wins at something it created. Something that made it standout in the world it is a sad day.
There is an example of that irony going on in Europe today. Spain certainly no longer rules the seas and it borders on bankruptcy. Yet it is the place where all the wealth of the New World entered Europe. They were not able to hold on to enough to keep them going. They may have been on the cutting edge of the technology of the days when they held power, but they have faded from glory. Is America headed down the same road. Maybe if America does not take time to train up our children in the way they should walk. If we continue on the road we are to moral bankruptcy, yes we will end up like Spain. Sad to say but true.