Friday, June 08, 2012

solving the problems of the future

Iris über Alles has become an expert at a fairly obscure academic competition, "International Future Problem Solvers."  Tweens and teens compete in groups of four.  They are told well ahead of time a broad topic, such as "coral reefs" or "human rights", which they then research in an attempt to gain a broad mastery of the huge topic.  At the actual competition, they are given a word problem from the future (called "the fuzzy" in Futures speak).  The team identifies a manageable part of the future problem, imagines a practical solution, and writes up their solution eloquently in a special format.  At competitions, they must also act out their solution.

Iris's team is a particularly volatile one.  At an especially heated practice, one enraged member of the team, who shall remain unidentified, broke the laptop of another member.  At some point in the season, a coach noted that this team had great potential if they could just stop squabbling, but Iris demurred. "We do our best work when we are fighting."

This pack of twelve year-old hotheads were selected to compete at the state level and entered into a crazed schedule of studying.  The theme was "international trade barriers", and initially I thought I would be able to help.  After all, I did go to Stanford, and while I was there, I got A minuses in International Business Transactions, International Law, and Economics.  So you'd think I could be an asset to a tween learning about trade barriers, and if you thought that, like me you'd be totally wrong.   It turns out that anything I had learned had become completely obsolete.  "You don't even know what the Doha Round is, do you?" jeered Iris repeatedly.  Stung, I went off to consult the internet and learned that my beloved GATT and all its rules and regulations I had so painfully mastered had been replaced while I'd been off breastfeeding.

I took to asking every adult I knew whether they knew what the Doha Round is, and not a single one did.  Meanwhile Iris had nothing but contempt for the idiots surrounding her, and as her scorn grew, so did her stress levels.  The team set themselves a hugely ambitious practice schedule involving hours of work every day, on top of their schoolwork, and soon they were feeling about the way I did when I was a tough litigator who cried in the shower in the mornings before putting on her expensive Italian suits because she felt she could never, never, never get all her work done.

We were all on tenterhooks as the state competition occurred.  I worried that if the team failed, Iris would be deeply depressed ("If we don't win, all this work will have been for NOTHING",  Iris said direly many times) but that if they won, perhaps they'd be even more filled for contempt for those of us who didn't even know what the damn Doha Round was.  In the end Iris's team placed first in the state of California in their age division.  They had been set the problem of solving Italy's financial problems, and Iris's team proposed violently removing all of Italy's minerals, a sort of super-fracking of the future.  I am sure I will be strongly opposed in the future when Italy gets around to this, but the judges were particularly charmed by the skit (Iris played an Italian environmentalist protesting this solution).

Now Iris is at the international level, in Indiana, all week.  This time the team took a more relaxed attitude towards competing and didn't put much energy into researching the topic, Big Pharma.  Supposedly some teams from Connecticut have the thing sewn up, winning year after year, so Iris moved her relentless focus from winning to collecting swag.  The teams all bring little items representing their home region for bartering with the others, and Iris was hellbent on finding the Australians, who supposedly bring little chocolate koalas and tiny tins of vegemite and who are the most desired trading partners.  Iris, armed with Google t-shirts, Ghirardelli chocolates, and an actual California license plate, fully intends to trample the other American teams to capture the coveted chocolate koalas.

Meanwhile on the home front, I got an email yesterday informing me that our share of the bill for having the team compete on the international level was $2,084.04.  I had been expecting it to be more like one thousand and was taken aback.  "For this much money, I better get one of those damn chocolate koalas," I bitched.  "Future Problem Solvers, more like Financial Problem Creators."  Meanwhile Iris, not content with having reached the international level of competition in one academic discipline, plans to take up competing in the Model U.N. next year.  "I'm going to get to go to  New York if I win!" she said.


Anonymous said...

You have to admit that going to New York is a much more attractive goal than getting little times of vegemite in Indiana.

Anonymous said...

And that's "tins" not "times". Giving up caffeine is starting to get to me.

Carroll said...

Vegemite and chocolate coming in at something like $1700 per pound (or likely a lot more) But the memories, Carole? Priceless! (right?)

I strolled by your place here tonight *specifically* to see if there had been an update as to how they/she are/is doing in their/her quest to succeed/score swag. Looking forward to the final report :-)

K said...

You should hope she gets you a chocolate koala. Caramellos are the BOMB!