Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Efficacy Software, P. 1: The Context

Something occurred to me while reading an article recently on Autism Spectrum Disorders - specifically the characteristic difficulty in interpreting body language (the article was discussing the discovery that ASD was also correlated with low levels of oxytocin, a chemical linked with emotion and communication). I wondered whether or not there had been much in the way of software development using a computer interface as a form of ASD rehabilitation . It seems that as body language has to do with visual processing, there could be much to gain from developing software that allows the ASD user to interact with visual stimulus. The goal would be to address specific skills that could then be transferred to real world situations.

But it then occurred to me that this format could have much broader applications. I recalled a previous blog entry in which I tried to quantify individual modes of personal efficacy, the degree to which one possessed each would contribute to positive personal and inter-personal outcomes. I called them Human Capital (HC). We are all familiar with computer-based learning systems. Their development in early childhood education has been remarkable, especially with the advent of relatively cheap, flash-based applications widely available online. But so far much of the content has been driven by classic, knowledge-based content standards. Yet personal efficacy requires much more, for instance looking at interpersonal skills like communication & listening skills, situational awareness, social norms and psychological refection.

We know that individual success is largely dependent on the skill set of the individual, and in the event of misfortune, certain skills are key to resiliency. These skills are not always taught to the degree that they could be in the home, peer circle or neighborhood. Some individuals will come to them spontaneously via innate inheritance, others by good fortune or chance. Others will never learn them at all, but having come into good fortune in other areas, will never be forced to rely upon their attainment.

Social statistics tell us that behind the conviction that everyone can succeed lies a fatal caveat: those who possess the skills to succeed, will succeed. Implicit in this statement is the necessity for one to possess something. Things can either be known innately, or learned. The skills we are referring to here are not what are commonly thought of as skills, per say, but the personal traits, or Human Capital, that lead one to success. In my previous post on this topic I outlined them thus:

Emotional: happiness, satisfaction, compassion, generosity, self-control, ethics, integrity, confidence, courage, self-awareness

Knowledge Skills: reading, writing, math, music, art, dance, technology, mechanics, athletics, discipline, diet, hygiene, exercise

Knowledge Information: humanities, sciences, traditions, institutions, "perspective"
Social: language, protocols, empathy, self-awareness (perception of self by others)

Monetary: family income, family resources, neighborhood resources,
Biological: mental, physical, health

These are rough draft estimations, and in need of revision. But the fundamental premise is the quantification of those assets which reward the individual both external and internal success and fulfillment. Some skills will be unattainable for purely physical or logistical reasons, and no one will likely ever fulfill all of them. But if HC is what success is made of, then if one is to be free to succeed in life one must be free to attain it. If our society is to truly desire freedom for each of its citizens, then it must seek to enable for them access to this capital.

Some of this is already acknowledged by the presence of our public education system. But it was never tasked with what social research has told us its purpose now serves: to provide a level playing field of personal skill-development that guarantees freedom of success for all citizens. Public schooling was thought of as a healthy benefit to a modern society - a project supplemental to the family and other social forces conspiring to shape a person's full expression, not the least of which was supposed to be the individual's own "free will" and judgment of action. Yet now, as social trends have been studied and successful outcomes have been tied to reliable indicators, education has become ever-more the final frontier of humankind's goal of social justice and freedom.

And of course it is failing. Those students who succeed do so because of two things: either good fortune or because they have at some point (including before birth) acquired sufficient levels of HC. Many children are fortunate in that they are able to acquire it outside of school. But for many children, school has become society's sole means to provide this HC. Yet the time spent at school is simply not enough to provide sufficient supply. For a variety of reasons, including funding & resources, socio-economic geographic logistics, and degree of parent HC, schools are forced to watch asthmatically as generation after generation of students is respired through their doors.

If that HC is required is not in dispute, then the problem simply becomes how to best ensure that every American achieves their maximum, and at the very least a guaranteed minimum. A corollary structure to this argument is the implication that those who have succeeded have done so due to a relative privilege of HC, and thus hold moral claim to the fruits of such success only to a degree over and above what society deems a base equitable distribution of HC resources. That is to say, only once sufficient policies have been put into place that guarantee a reasonable distribution of Human Capital may individuals be allowed to enjoy greater HC privilege benefits, being as they are circumstantially derived.

There is of course great leeway in how strictly this would be implemented. As comprehensive metrics on both how to measure individual HC attainment as well as its impact on success becomes more and more difficult moving from macro to micro level. Depending on the degree to which one is comfortable establishing arbitrary policy determinations based on certain metrics, a redistributive structure could be arranged via various progressive taxation structures, or some other methods of equitabilitization.

This has been the incision point for traditional arguments against any sort of interventionist, progressive economic policy. These have fundamentally revolved around an appeal to the concept of individual freedom of will, and that its existence renders unjust any attempt to limit the individual's right to enjoy the benefits of one's success, based as it is not on the HC model, but on the assumption of a theoretically infinite capacity for creative control over one's destiny, unencumbered by biological or social privilege. In addition - according to these arguments - any attempt to rectify an imbalance in HC by the government would only make matters worse, due to the inefficiency inherent in government action. Far better be it to allow the invisible hand of the free market to provide sufficient lubrication for individual success.

But the HC model denies such claims. Its inherent assumption is that success is created solely from HC, as is any possible definition of something one could call free will. So any society interested in the promotion of freedom must answer first to how it promotes HC. Second, many elements of HC acquisition are not only not commodities, and thus untradeable on a free market, but in cases where they might be, like any market items their purchase requires capital to begin with. And due to the nature of HC's relationship with wealth creation and success, the degree to which one lacks HC will limit one's ability to bargain! And so while government action, with its guarantee of access, may not necessarily enjoy the benefits in efficiency and innovation that come from a competitive free market, if one considers the principle of individual freedom paramount, and human freedom predicated upon the equitable attainment of HC, then it must have a significant role in its provision.

No comments:

Post a Comment