Seeing these two experiences side by side — my son spending two months researching the components for a dream computer and studying for a geometry test — made me think about the kinds of information that schools conventionally impart to students, particularly now in an age where everyone genuflects at the altar of STEM. Think about what my son was learning as he planned his bespoke computer: using the Internet to research and comparison shop; compiling budgets; modeling different configurations; weighing cost-benefit tradeoffs; learning the mechanical skills required to assemble the components; acquiring the deeper understanding of how computers work that comes from actually building one yourself. Yes, all that expertise was being harnessed for creating what would eventually just be a glorified video game console. But the kind of problem-solving you need to build a computer is actually a very complex form of thinking, certainly more complex than just memorizing a formula and plugging in the numbers. And while I have never had to calculate the volume of a cone in my adult life, I can’t begin to count the number of times I have had to create budgets, think through cost-benefit assessments, or research thorny technical problems online.
An average worker needs to work a mere 11 hours per week to produce as much as one working 40 hours per week in 1950. […] the average worker could have a 29-hour workweek if he were satisfied with producing as much as a 40-hour worker as recently as 1990.