Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Average Weather, Stock Market Price Fluctuations, African American Suspension Rates, Failing Schools, Politicians, and the issue of Wicked Problems

((My goal had been to publish this in March, but that didn't happen.  It does, however, help to explain the March weather references))

In my opinion, daily weather averages are not all that helpful in places like Milwaukee.  Or, more precisely, the way they are used by meteorologists is not helpful- especially during months like March.  I often hear them proclaim that "We should have a high today of 38." 

The lowest recorded Milwaukee March temperature is -10, and the highest recorded temperature is 84.  Yes, we can generally expect that a random day in March will be warmer than a random day in January, but we also know that it is very common for the reverse to be true.  So common, in fact, that cold weather in March doesn't surprise us at all..

There really is no such thing as an 'average' or 'normal' day in Milwaukee in March.  In places like Milwaukee, in months like March, it is useless to declare what a temperature "should" be on any given day.

Weather in Milwaukee in March is 'Wicked.'  It is complex and dynamic and multifaceted.  We miss all of the complexity and dynamism when we reduce it to statements like "Our high temperature should be 38 today."

"The stock market fell sharply today on fears that .....  Shares of 'X' were hit especially hard, as investors..."  I call BS.  If this were so widely known, and/or so obvious, why and how would anyone ever lose money on a stock?  The truth is that we don't often know why a stock price fluctuates day to day.  Declaring with certainty that we do know, when we don't, only gives a false impression that a very complex entity- the market- can be explained simply and with great certainty and clarity.

Stock market price fluctuations are a 'Wicked Problem.'  They occur for complex and dynamic and multifaceted reasons. 

I heard a reporter talking the other day about the "suspension rate gap" that exists between White and African-American students.  According to the reporter, the primary problem is a lack of teacher training. 

Hold on.  Do I think more and better training can help?  Sure.  Is that, in and of itself, going to make a big dent in the suspension rate gap?  I doubt it.  The Suspension Rate Gap persists because it is a 'Wicked Problem.'  It is complex and dynamic and multifaceted. 

The narrative of failing schools drives me especially insane.  As I've noted before, the schools that are struggling cannot be fixed by any one thing.  These schools, and the neighborhoods they serve, are plagued by complex, dynamic, multifaceted 'Wicked Problems.'

We are gearing up for another Presidential Campaign.  Politicians of all ideological stripes will assure us that the solutions are simple and straightforward.  There will be untold references to 'rolling up our sleeves,' and 'sitting around the kitchen table.'  Candidates will try to use downhome folksy wisdom to connect to voters.  It works only because we let them get away with it.

We have many "Wicked Problems."   We need to accept and embrace the complexity.