I really like Tom Friedman’s books and I really like Tom Friedman’s articles. In fact, it could be said that I have a slight man-crush on Tom Friedman. I’m not quite at the phase where I park outside of the New York Times building and follow The World is Flat author home to attempt to see if he has rabbits, but I could be near the point of finding Mark Levin and bitch slapping him for all the mean things he says about Tom Friedman.
However lately we have taken a step backwards in our relationship. In the past, Friedman has been very intelligent about how the country needs to pull itself out of the current recession. Before it was popular to do so, he called the downturn a structural issue that need long term investment, including some serious focus on educating today’s youth. If you read The World Is Flat, you’ll remember the conversation he had with young teachers and how middle-class American families seemed to have an aversion to too much academia; focusing more on school dances, piano recitals, and winning idiotic Homecoming Spirit Bells (ok, maybe not the last one). Part of his overall thesis was that structural issues existed within the educational system that needed changing or the United States risked delving into the same mediocrity that was pervasive in Japan in the 1990’s.
I guess the structural change that Friedman meant was the use of the Internet to teach the uneducated masses in Khan Academy fashion. In his recent article in the New York Times, Tom Friedman boldly calls the recent attempts for Stanford to post classes online as the new “college education revolution”, except that it really isn’t that bold since Flipping classrooms has been on the edu-reform agenda since, oh I don’t know, two years ago. But this is different because it’s college, or Stanford, or involves people from China, Russia, and Iran, or some damn thing. Oh wait a minute, what it really means is that a lot more people are going to have access to college curriculum online for next-to-nothing (except that venture capitalists rarely ask for next-to-nothing), therefore fixing the overwhelming structural employment problem of not enough labor having all the right skills.
So pack the Net classrooms with enough yahoos and lord knows that a gem might fall through the cracks and decide to go to school at an actual institution. This is so not ingenious and so doesn’t remedy the problem of a structurally defunct economy. While Tom Friedman continues to wander in his shroom induced Khan haze, I’d like to maneuver you to this article by University of Chicago economist Raghuram Rajan. It’s the kind of intelligent analysis that Friedman would be into before he ventured into realm of Silicon Valley elitism.
“The United States, for its part, can take some comfort in the powerful forces that should help create more productive jobs in the future: better information and communications technology, lower-cost clean energy, and sharply rising demand in emerging markets for higher-value-added goods. But it also needs to take decisive action now so that it can be ready to take advantage of these forces. The United States must improve the capabilities of its work force, preserve an environment for innovation, and regulate finance better so as to prevent excess.”
Sounds like a long term growth plan that demands serious educational reform. Only Tom Friedman has decided that “reform” just means that the more bodies that you put in front of a computer, the more likely they will finish college knowing little or nothing except how to check Facebook while writing a forum post about organic chemistry, although not really engaging with organic chemistry because the LOL Cats on Facebook are a whole lot more amusing.
I’m at a loss for words when even Friedman buys into some ridiculous notion that the Internet is the answer for all things education. We already have kids propped up in front of computers “learning” for the next generation. It’s called Cyber High. It’s credit recovery, meaning the students failed to come to school to learn in an academic environment so it is assumed that to doing it over in front of a computer is somehow better. And these students will learn, of course. I mean while they post jokes on Twitter and create Meme’s of Sasha Baron Cohen dropping the ashes on Ryan Seacrest, learning will be attempted. Some how. And this is the “revolution. Well, here’s to hoping that Maureen Dowd is on the beach with Tom Friedman, gently stroking his hair during this bad trip, whispering in his ear that everything will be ok when he wakes up.