The Law of Unintended Consequences Pt 1

It’s not really a law, not in a legal sense, but it is a law of nature just like gravity, and dropped toast lands butter side down. There is almost nothing you can do good or bad that won’t have unintended consequences. That doesn’t mean freeze in the deer in the headlight pose but it does mean that even the best ideas bear some thinking through before being enacted. Unless of course you’re being chased by a bear, then just run.

I’m an engineer, we’re known for looking for every conceivable thing that could possibly go wrong. Personally I think that’s a good way to live, but I understand that’s not a majority viewpoint.

I recently heard a discussion on why our K-12 education system is going down the tubes. I’ve been hearing the same old tired refrain for years and years: not enough money, crappy teachers, crappy students, crappy parents, crappy buildings, need I go on? But this was something I hadn’t heard before and it made so much sense I don’t know why I it isn’t talked about all the time (With the idea creating a solution of course.)

The gist of what this person said was, and I’m sorry I never caught who it was, is that at one point in time ( I think after WWII) the K-12 schools were full of women teachers who were highly educated and well qualified in their fields of study, but who couldn’t get the better paying, professional, “real” jobs. (You know, cuz they weren’t men.)

Now I’m a woman and an engineer, you will never tell me that it would be better if women were relegated to “women’s” jobs. But, perhaps if we had looked at what was happening we could have found a way to mitigate that unintended consequence of equal opportunity employment.

What would that better way have looked like? I don’t know but I’m sure it would have looked differently if it had been tackled early on instead of waiting until our school system was failing so badly. As Sandra Day O’Connor recently said on The Daily Show: “Only a third of Americans can even name the three branches of government….75% of Americans can name at least one of the American Idol judges.” She goes on to talk about how one of the unintended consequences of the “No Child Left Behind Act” (Every child left behind?) have discouraged schools from teaching civics and history as they are not on the national tests.

But going back before the monkey president to when our education system started failing, what happened? I’m not going to address that question today, what I’m thinking about is: when women started working in professional roles did anyone ever stop to ask “What were these women doing before?) Did we really just assume they had all been housewives? One day they were housewives, they next day magically they were doctors, lawyers, engineers, business women? It has to be obvious now that were becoming educated in these roles for years before they were able to actually step into them. It should be equally obvious that they didn’t all get married after college and lay around the house watching soap operas.

Whose job was it to notice this phenomenon? Well, no-one’s really. I guess that’s where I’m going, there are thinkers, that like/have to consider every possible thing that can happen about just about everything they know anything about. What do we do with these valuable people? Ignore them! Yep, ignore them. They’re always saying things like, “that bridge needs maintenance”, and “but if we do that, then this other thing might happen”, and other uncomfortable statements. Better to ignore them and then if something bad happens we say “well no-one could have predicted that”, but, of course, someone could have, and probably did.

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