Education and Society

John Sexton: I think that it’s the responsibility of society to invest in higher education.  The basic question is in a world where the future is going to be dominated by a set of idea capitals.  When I talk about this phrase “idea capitals,” you have to think of kind of a pyramid of knowledge.  There will be in individual locations or cities, we’ll call them cities for the moment.  There will be in individual cities a talent base.  How much of the pyramid of knowledge leading to the apex of the triangle, which is the highest activity in which humankind engages.  What makes us different?  The mind.  So the apex of the pyramid is the highest activity in which humankind engages.  How far up that pyramid of knowledge is a given city or location going to drive its population?  You start with a basic K-12 education.  You work through.  You bring people up their talent pyramid as far as they can.  The real idea capitals of the world, and if you look out at this century as it unfolds, I think it will unfold as a kind of matrixed world.  The Aga Khan calls the century into which we’ve moved the knowledge century.  David Brooks a few weeks ago called it the cognitive century.  I’ve been calling it for a long time the idea century.  The idea century would be characterized by a set of matrixed locations, all interconnected,
will be these idea capitals.  How many will there be?  Six, eight, ten, at most twelve.  China will have a couple of them.  India’s trying to have one.  The continent will have one.  London will probably be one.  New York should be one.  I’ve already named six.  The Gulf is investing heavily in having one or two.  Now I’m up to eight.  There’s not room for many more at the apex, at the highest level.  The United States should have three or four.  Today, if one were to list the top 50 universities in the world, 40 of them, minimum, would be in the United States, maybe 45.  These idea capitals I talk about will have as their hydraulic force, their animating principle of research universities first and great educational complexes second, right down through kindergarten.  They’ll operate at the apex with having one or two, maybe even three research universities.  Research universities are what do ideas at the highest level.  They also magnetize faculty and students, idea people that then go out and populate the other idea elements of an idea capital and raise the entire level of the conversation.  So if one imagines a world where there are six, eight, ten, twelve of these idea capitals, one wants to be in that matrixed world at the highest level if one is trying to create the post-modern society.  So one wants to make sure you’re nurturing these research universities in particular, universities

beyond that, the entire educational complex behind that.  So one would be thinking then that as a society as a whole, who’s responsible for it?  Public policy officials, private actors, the corporate sector, philanthropists, the higher education sector itself, which has to kind of keep its focus on producing the kind of idea-generating engine, both in terms of research and the idea carriers we call our graduates.  Then the populous who see for their children that the future is better if you invest in it.  So it’s a multi-vectored investment.  But the key indicator that worries me the most is that the public policymakers, the government officials that are charged with looking out over decades and seeing where society is going, aren’t doing it.  They’re looking for short-term results and they are disinvesting in higher education, treating it more as a private good than as a public good.  So they’re not investing as much in research.  They’re not investing as much in providing the ability to students to go to the colleges where those students

Recorded on 5/19/08

Sexton foretells of a world dominated by idea capitals.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

10 books to check out from Jordan Peterson's 'Great Books' list

The Canadian professor has an extensive collection posted on his site.

Jordan Peterson with Carl Jung and the cover art of Jaak Panksepp's 'Affective Neuroscience' (Image: Chris Williamson/Getty Images/Big Think)
Personal Growth
  • Peterson's Great Books list features classics by Orwell, Jung, Huxley, and Dostoevsky.
  • Categories include literature, neuroscience, religion, and systems analysis.
  • Having recently left Patreon for "freedom of speech" reasons, Peterson is taking direct donations through Paypal (and Bitcoin).
Keep reading Show less

Your body’s full of stuff you no longer need. Here's a list.

Evolution doesn't clean up after itself very well.

Image source: Ernst Haeckel
Surprising Science
  • An evolutionary biologist got people swapping ideas about our lingering vestigia.
  • Basically, this is the stuff that served some evolutionary purpose at some point, but now is kind of, well, extra.
  • Here are the six traits that inaugurated the fun.
Keep reading Show less

Should you invest in China's stock market? Know this one thing first.

Despite incredible economic growth, it is not necessarily an investor's paradise.

  • China's stock market is just 27 years old. It's economy has grown 30x over that time.
  • Imagine if you had invested early and gotten in on the ground floor.
  • Actually, you would have lost money. Here's how that's possible.