Recently I was notified about an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal (“America’s Baby Bust“). When I went looking for the data sources, I got a bit frustrated and finally decided to grab data from the World dataBank. Along the way, I also noticed a number of other articles out there on the internets, some of which are contradictory to some of the cause-effect relationships in the WSJ article (for example, this one from the Huffington Post). Which just goes to show that you have to be very careful about what you read online. Regardless, most items I can find via google indicate that the number of live births is decidedly down, and at the same time we are not exactly at the top of our economic game.
While the articles, when read in isolation of different points of views, seem to paint a pretty worrisome picture, it is not clear to me at all what the point is. Both Jonathan Last of the WSJ and Bonnie Kavousii of the Post want us to make more babies; the ramifications of a dwindling supply of warm bodies brings me back to The Matrix Reloaded:
Neo: You won’t let it happen, you can’t. You need human beings to survive.
The Architect: There are levels of survival we are prepared to accept.
Their arguments make sense. The factual information, if nothing else, is rather astounding. For instance, the number of immigrants that bolster our live birth rate data just blows my mind. If we are to take these bits of statistics, and more importantly, what the authors want us to believe about them, as gospel, it reminds me that we humans do not really have as much control as we think we do; all our past choices are going to catch up to us.
I have also started a little research of my own; I am digging up the total enrollment in Unit 4 since the 1950’s. Along the way, I have talked to a number of librarians (Champaign, Urbana, University) and finally found some rich resources that I will be scouring tomorrow (Tuesday). What I have gleaned so far is that Champaign had a whopping 12,000 students back in 1970. We took a precipitous drop until 1985 when we bottomed out at a little over 8300, and have been climbing since then. Even more amazing than that, however, are the projections I have uncovered during my search. One demographic projection published in 1988 concluded that population trends would be down in the year 2000, below 1988 levels. Ooops. Another published in 2003 predicted an extremely modest growth over the next 10 years, much flatter than what actually happened. Remember that now infamous 2008 Demographic Survey that somehow missed the Kindergarten explosion of 2011? And now we have yet another firm peering into a crystal ball telling us what the year 2023 might be like.
Here is my take-away. We cannot predict the future. We can kind of make an educated guess, but the only thing I can guarantee is that there are no guarantees. So to me, it seems paramount to enhance our flexibility skills. We need to be able to adapt to changing situations. What is a bit frustrating to me is that Unit 4 has had the awesome sounding Long Range Strategic Plan and things like “Great Schools, Together“, but it is exceptionally difficult to see how that has helped us prepare for the future. Pattsi, as she tells it, has been telling the school district “for 40 years” that they need a planner. 🙂 In light of the Super Bowl weekend, actually I think we need a quarterback. And a darned good one at that (unfortunately, I am not a sports fan, so I can’t rattle off a short list of Hall of Famer’s – I am sure some of you could). We need somebody who can see that linebacker blitz and audible a pitch to a running back.
And it just kills me that we have a research institution that forms the roots of our community.