How many goodly creatures there are here!
How beauteous mankind is!
O brave new world
That has such people in’t!
— Shakespeare, “The Tempest”
One of the advantages of growing old (there are not many) is that you can safely predict the future without having to back up your insights with assumptions you won’t be around to defend. Here are two of mine:
The first issue is public education. For as long as I can remember, an unreachable goal of many well-intentioned educationists in South Carolina and elsewhere has been to “close the achievement gap” between well-prepared students and those who unfortunately are not well-prepared when our schools first get their hands on them. Reduced to basics, there are but two ways to do this: you can either level up or level down. My observation is that what’s most often tried is the latter. There’s been very little emphasis on challenging the better-prepared in schools. Many soon become bored with what’s offered and quickly pace themselves with those who do not perform acceptably.
Why not go whole hog in this “dumbing down” process? (Nobody wants to call it that, but everybody knows that’s what it is.) Do away with letter and numerical grades. Nobody fails and nobody excels. Think what this simple step would do toward improving the self-esteem of those who either can’t or won’t perform as well as we want them to.
Instead of teacher-prepared lesson plans, use the remarkable new technology associated with social media and the internet. Let children do what they most like to do today — watch everything on a little screen on a little cellphone. Keep in touch with their friends. Send photos of themselves or naughty ones taken of others. We’d hardly need teachers at all. We’d save loads of money. All the schools would have to have are a few well-paid administrators to prepare fake diplomas and such. And, of course, some armed peacekeepers to keep things from getting out of hand on bad days.
The performance gap would shrink and — voila! Soon it would disappear completely.
The second issue is energy. I was intrigued by a recent article in the The Wall Street Journal that was published under this headline: “Your Next Home Might Not Use Any Energy at All.” What the writer of the piece suggested was that “zero energy homes” now being built will be so well insulated that heating and cooling them would not be required. Roof-mounted solar panels would provide ancillary power for heat pumps, light, TV, computer access to the internet, etc.
Right about here is where I’d shoot the headline writer. Solar power does indeed consume energy — the radiant energy of the sun — and it doesn’t matter at all if you are connected to the grid or if you sell back to a future SCE&G the excess power your solar panels generate (when the sun shines). As long as your lights are on, your phone rings, and your lithium batteries are being charged, you will be consuming energy from some external source or other.
If you want to stop the Arctic and Antarctic ice packs from melting and the seas from rising, turn off the sun. Just a little bit. Anything else you do will not make a dime’s worth of difference. I keep looking for scientific studies that compare all the Earth’s energy produced by the sun with that from burning coal and natural gas, and from hydroelectric and nuclear power plants, etc. I think we’d find such a study illuminating, and even astonishing.
Speaking of nuclear (not in context with SCANA’s abandonment of its plan to finish building two new reactors — that’s been given more than enough ink), I would not be surprised if sooner than many might expect, new construction — office buildings, apartment houses, even single-family homes — will be equipped with nuclear fusion power plants no larger than a suitcase, that will provide all the power needed in these structures.
All smoke-spewing power plants, all distribution networks, all telephone poles and wires, all inflated monthly bills for electric and gas, will fold up and disappear.
O brave, new world! Would that we all could still be here to see it.
R.L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor.