Lots of Rebuttals of Thomas Friedman
by Susan Ohanian
A friend called last night, wanting to know if I'd read the "good words" in Thomas Friedman's Sunday column. I replied, "I don't read Thomas Friedman, as I'm sure reading him shortens one's life." Thomas Friedman loves to jump on a remark and interpret it in his own way--from a cab driver in Mumbai to--now--Tony Wagner. Arne Duncan likes to quote Thomas Friedman. And Tony Wagner. Anybody who has close connections to Bill Gates is to be quoted. Tony Wagner was co-director of the Change Leadership Group (CLG) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
You may remember that the New York Times invited me to write an opinion piece--but then backed out when I kept insisting on criticizing Thomas Friedman. Their reasoning was "He has nothing to do with education." My answer was "Then why does he keep writing about it?"
Matt Taibbi does great take-downs on Friedman on topics other than education. Here are a couple:
No Kidding: The Most Incoherent Tom Friedman Column Ever
Flathead: The Peculiar Genius of Thomas L. Friedman
And so on.
The Atlantic called Friedman
Wanker of the Decade.
The New Republic reduced one of his columns to :
whacky metaphors he loves.
The Center for Economic and Policy Research discusses the Sunday March 31 Friedman column.
Thomas Friedman Invented His Own Job, Why Shouldn't You? They point out what the late Gerald Bracey told us over and over: There isn't a skills crisis; there's a jobs crisis. The Economic Policy Institute frequently updates the facts about skills and jobs.
Sunday, 31 March 2013 05:13
Imagine getting paid to write things on economics for the New York Timesthat don't make sense? That job may not exist if Thomas Friedman didn't invent it. Hence the headline of his Sunday column, "Need a Job? Invent It."
As Friedman tells readers, you need to create your own job because:
"there is increasingly no such thing as a high-wage, middle-skilled job -- the thing that sustained the middle class in the last generation. Now there is only a high-wage, high-skilled job. Every middle-class job today is being pulled up, out or down faster than ever. That is, it either requires more skill or can be done by more people around the world or is being buried --made obsolete -- faster than ever."
One part of this story is just wrong and the other part is at best misleading.
The wrong part is about jobs being made obsolete "faster than ever." The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) actually measures the rate at which jobs are becoming obsolete, it's called "productivity growth." Over the last five years productivity growth in the non-farm business sector has averaged 1.6 percent annually. That's probably somewhat depressed as a result of the downturn, but even if we go back to 2002 we still only get up to 1.8 percent annually. That's well below the 2.8 percent annual rate from 1947 to 1973.
Maybe Friedman was just talking about productivity in manufacturing. This sector generally had had somewhat faster productivity growth than the rest of the economy. It is also where we find many middle paying jobs.
He has a bit better case here, but not much. Over the last five years productivity growth in manufacturing has averaged 2.1 percent, over the last ten years 2.9 percent. This is certainly stronger than the economy-wide average, but even going back over a ten year stretch we just get a rate of productivity growth that is essentially equal to the economy-wide average from 1947-73. (The BLS website doesn't post the productivity for manufacturing before 1987, but it's a safe bet that in the 1947-73 period it also exceeded the economy-wide average.)
Okay, so the claim about jobs becoming obsolete faster than ever is just wrong. The part that is seriously misleading is middle skilled jobs, as opposed to high-skilled jobs, "can be done by more people around the world." Why on earth does Freidman think that jobs like those held by doctors, lawyers, dentists, economists, can't be done by people around the world? There are millions of very smart people in China, India, and elsewhere in the developing world who would be happy to train to U.S. standards in these and other high-skilled professions and work for half of the pay that our professions receive.
The reason that these fields are not all dominated by people from the developing world is that the professionals who fill these positions today have enormous political power. They use this power to keep out the people from around the world. They also use this power to block trade in their services, for example, by making it difficult or impossible for the government to save tens of billions of dollars by allowing patients on Medicare or Medicaid to have major medical procedures performed outside the country. (They could split the savings.)
But, Friedman instead perpetuates the nonsense that high-skilled workers are somehow protected from international competition by their skills rather than their political power. Of course even the idea that we are increasing becoming a nation of self-employed workers is complete nonsense. In 1973, the self-employed accounted for 6.5 percent of total employment. Last year it was down to 6.1 percent.
Friedman might think that in the new economy people have to invent their own jobs, but the data say otherwise. And that's what Thomas Friedman does for a living.#
Here's a letter Stephen Krashen wrote 3 years ago to the New York Times
. Of course they didn't publish it. They don't tolerate criticism of Thomas Friedman. The letter is still on target.
Here's a brilliant takedown of the Friedman column from Schools Matter, April 3, 2013.
Tony Wagner, Arne Duncan, and Thomas Friedman ("Teaching for America," Nov. 20) agree that Denmark, Finland, and Sweden outperform the US because their teachers graduate in top one-third of their classes
There is another explanation: Poverty. The percentage of children living in poverty in Denmark is 2.4%, in Finland, 2.8%, and in Sweden 4.2%. In the US the percentage is 21.9. Poverty means poor nutrition, substandard health care, environmental toxins, and little access to books; all have a strong negative impact on school success.
Middle class American children attending well-funded schools outscore nearly all other countries on international tests. Our overall scores are unspectacular because we have such a high percentage of children living in poverty.
Increasing pressure on teacher education, teachers, and parents will not improve achievement, but if we can protect children from the effects of poverty, American tests scores will be at the top of the world.
UNICEF, 2005. Child Poverty in Rich Countries, 2005. Innocenti Report Card No.6. UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence. AvaIlable at: www.unicef.org/irc
Malnutrition, hunger: Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit; Coles, G. 2008/2009. Hunger, academic success, and the hard bigotry of indifference. Rethinking Schools 23 (2).
Health care: Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit.
Environmental toxins: Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit; Martin, M. 2004. A strange ignorance: The role of lead poisoning in "failing schools." http://www.azsba.org/lead.htm.
Access to books: Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Portsmouth: Heinemann and Westport: Libraries Unlimited; Neuman, S.B. & Celano, D. 2001. Access to print in low-income and middle-income communities: An ecological study of four neighborhoods. Reading Research Quarterly, 36, 1, 8-26; Di Loreto, C., and Tse, L. 1999. Seeing is believing: Disparity in books in two Los Angeles area public libraries. School Library Quarterly 17(3): 31-36.
Tom Friedman Signals New Education Rhetoric and the Same Old Crap
I have been dismissing Tom Friedman for a long time, but occasionally I do find something of interest in his column that someone else said. His latest column follows that pattern, in that it is based largely on quotes from Tony Wagner, a Harvard prof who has made a career of trying to do in education what Tom Friedman has done in politics, i. e., represent an abstract middle-brow version of progressivism that wraps neo-liberal social engineering plans in gauzy, good-smelling paper. When you look closely, however, you will still find a turd inside.
Friedman begins by citing with the reason for all education, the economy, and by pointing out that there are no more high paying middle skilled jobs. What he doesnÃ¢€™t tell us is that those jobs were shipped abroad by the guys he goes skiing with in Sun Valley, exported to labor markets that made them middle- skills slave-wage jobs. See China, India, Bangladesh, etc.
Then Friedman says with apparent sincerity that "now there is only the high-wage high-skilled job." Really? How about the growing number of high-skilled low-wage jobs that have been created by an oversupply of college degrees and a by further atomization of unions? See Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Koch Boys, etc.
As the story goes, Tom called Tony to get some advice on how to make everyone ready for the handful of high-wage high-skilled jobs created each year. Tony apparently said forget it, man, we need schools that can turn out thinkers, rather than test takers.
"So we need folks who can think outside the bubble, don't you know. What's going now in schools is killing imagination and motivation, so we're screwed, dude, until we get rid of the high stakes tests that are driving what is taught, which amounts to a bunch of facts that can be turned into a standardized measurement tool. And that idea about everyone college ready? So forget that, too--we need people who can add value to whatever they do in life.
So Tony, man, this is greatÃ¢€”how do we get there? So I am putting you in my column, by the way.
So, cool. Here's how. So to get people who can spend their live creating new apps, I mean, adding value to what they do, we motivated risk takers who know how to play, with passion--you know what I mean?
So I think so.
And that is where, in Tom's column, Tony apparently stopped winging it and started reading from the script prepared for him by the Gates Foundation. Because of its translucent packaging, I am going to do some unwrapping from inside the brackets:
"Teachers," he [Tony reading the Gates script] said, "need to coach students to performance excellence [drill, baby, drill], and principals must be instructional leaders [meaningless babble] who create the culture of collaboration required to innovate [school leaders must take their marching orders from the Business Roundtable]. But what gets tested is what gets taught, and so we need 'Accountability 2.0.' [a third generation of the same stuff that hasn't any better than the earlier Windows versions]. All students should have digital portfolios to show evidence of mastery of skills like critical thinking and communication [think bandwidth, technology sales, and rubrics, rubric, rubrics], which they build up right through K-12 and postsecondary [the total surveillance school testing to college testing pipeline--the TSSTCTP]. Selective use of high-quality tests, like the College and Work Readiness Assessment, is important [How else are we going to know how much and where people are going to add their value??--by the way, the company that makes CWRA also makes the College Learning Assessment (CLA), which is how we will know how much students learn in college]. Finally, teachers should be judged on evidence of improvement in students' work through the year -- instead of a score on a bubble test in May [the value-added judge will be more than one test--it will be many tests throughout the year. See Common Core]. We need lab schools [charter schools] where students earn [by more exit exams] a high school diploma [the dead end type] by completing a series of skill-based 'merit badges' in things like entrepreneurship [students can keep their badges in their footlockers when they go off to get a job fighting (high risk-low pay) in the next war to protect American business interests]. And schools of education [Lemovian training camps] where all new teachers have Ã¢€˜residenciesÃ¢€™ with master teachers [student teaching on steroids] and performance standards [testing targets]-- not content standards [not Dewey or Vygotsky]Ã¢€” must become the new normal throughout the system." [See Relay or Match]
Tom: [So] Who is doing it right?
"Finland is one of the most innovative economies in the world," he said, "and it is the only country where students leave high school 'innovation-ready.' They learn concepts and creativity more than facts, and have a choice of many electives -- all with a shorter school day, little homework, and almost no testing. In the U.S., 500 K-12 schools affiliated with Hewlett FoundationÃ¢€™s Deeper Learning Initiative [aka Harder Test Initiative]and a consortium of 100 school districts called EdLeader21 are developing new approaches to teaching 21st-century skills."
[Deeper learning is a new edu-buzz word. This is from the Hewlett site, announcing the new and improved testing plan:
After doing months of research and interviewing more than 100 theorists, thinkers and investors in education philanthropy, the Hewlett Education Program is set to channel money into strategies that develop students' preparation for working in a global economy.
Getting the picture???]
The key aspects of the deeper learning module include four efforts to:# Promote policies or strategies that create incentives for schools to focus on deeper learning, concentrating initially on improving the assessments used to measure students' academic growth;Ã¢€Â¨
# Build educational systems capacity and teaching practices both online and in the classroom to reach large numbers of students using deeper learning principles;Ã¢€Â¨
# Support proof points including model K-12 schools and community colleges, and fund research that promotes deeper learning as an attainable and necessary goal for all students; andÃ¢€Â¨
# Develop new, innovative models to increase access for all students and to improve deeper learning.
My turn: As far as I can see in this example or in EdLeaders21, which is a consulting outfit run by some very nice people who are universally unqualified to give teaching and learning advice, there is nothing that resembles the kind of systemic, deep, reflective national conversation and commitment that went into the kind of changes that occurred in Finland. This is simply Wagner putting a nice bow on his smelly package. That kind of "deep learning" that Finland engaged in would take a federal education initiative from a federal department that was not a candy store for corporate foundations and the Business Roundtable.
That's what Tony Wagner knows but is afraid to tell Tom Friedman, who knows it, too, but who is too much of self-serving whore to do anything with that knowledge. Meanwhile, we give you Tom, Tony, and Turds.
That's it from Schools Matter. Now on to Friedman
New York Times
March 30, 2013
Need a Job? Invent It
WHEN Tony Wagner, the Harvard education specialist, describes his job today, he says he's "a translator between two hostile tribes" -- the education world and the business world, the people who teach our kids and the people who give them jobs. Wagner's argument in his book "Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World" is that our K-12 and college tracks are not consistently "adding the value and teaching the skills that matter most in the marketplace."
This is dangerous at a time when there is increasingly no such thing as a high-wage, middle-skilled job -- the thing that sustained the middle class in the last generation. Now there is only a high-wage, high-skilled job. Every middle-class job today is being pulled up, out or down faster than ever. That is, it either requires more skill or can be done by more people around the world or is being buried -- made obsolete -- faster than ever. Which is why the goal of education today, argues Wagner, should not be to make every child "college ready" but "innovation ready" -- ready to add value to whatever they do.
That is a tall task. I tracked Wagner down and asked him to elaborate. "Today," he said via e-mail, "because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate -- the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life -- and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge. As one executive told me, "We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can't teach them how to think -- to ask the right questions -- and to take initiative.'"
My generation had it easy. We got to "find" a job. But, more than ever, our kids will have to "invent" a job. (Fortunately, in today's world, that's easier and cheaper than ever before.) Sure, the lucky ones will find their first job, but, given the pace of change today, even they will have to reinvent, re-engineer and reimagine that job much more often than their parents if they want to advance in it. If that's true, I asked Wagner, what do young people need to know today?
"Every young person will continue to need basic knowledge, of course," he said. "But they will need skills and motivation even more. Of these three education goals, motivation is the most critical. Young people who are intrinsically motivated -- curious, persistent, and willing to take risks -- will learn new knowledge and skills continuously. They will be able to find new opportunities or create their own -- a disposition that will be increasingly important as many traditional careers disappear."
So what should be the focus of education reform today?
"We teach and test things most students have no interest in and will never need, and facts that they can Google and will forget as soon as the test is over," said Wagner. "Because of this, the longer kids are in school, the less motivated they become. Gallup's recent survey showed student engagement going from 80 percent in fifth grade to 40 percent in high school. More than a century ago, we 'reinvented' the one-room schoolhouse and created factory schools for the industrial economy. Reimagining schools for the 21st-century must be our highest priority. We need to focus more on teaching the skill and will to learn and to make a difference and bring the three most powerful ingredients of intrinsic motivation into the classroom: play, passion and purpose."
What does that mean for teachers and principals?
"Teachers," he said, "need to coach students to performance excellence, and principals must be instructional leaders who create the culture of collaboration required to innovate. But what gets tested is what gets taught, and so we need 'Accountability 2.0.' All students should have digital portfolios to show evidence of mastery of skills like critical thinking and communication, which they build up right through K-12 and postsecondary. Selective use of high-quality tests, like the College and Work Readiness Assessment, is important. Finally, teachers should be judged on evidence of improvement in students' work through the year -- instead of a score on a bubble test in May. We need lab schools where students earn a high school diploma by completing a series of skill-based 'merit badges' in things like entrepreneurship. And schools of education where all new teachers have "residencies" with master teachers and performance standards --not content standards -- must become the new normal throughout the system."
Who is doing it right?
"Finland is one of the most innovative economies in the world," he said, "and it is the only country where students leave high school 'innovation-ready.' They learn concepts and creativity more than facts, and have a choice of many electives -- all with a shorter school day, little homework, and almost no testing. In the U.S., 500 K-12 schools affiliated with Hewlett Foundation's Deeper Learning Initiative and a consortium of 100 school districts called EdLeader21 are developing new approaches to teaching 21st-century skills. There are also a growing number of 'reinvented' colleges like the Olin College of Engineering, the M.I.T. Media Lab and the 'D-school' at Stanford where students learn to innovate."
Thomas Friedman plus many Friedman debunkers
New York Times