In the Midst of Apocalypse: Tom Friedman Is a Weathercock of Irrelevance

stack of books in libraryLook, no listen, no hear…

The world is riven.  More and more we strike epiphanic notes.  Aha, the world is run by the few at the expense of the many.  Aha, utility privileges the few and makes quantification of “the good” a measured excuse.  Aha, capitalism floats the boats of the wealthy in any country by fooling a population that life is better with gadgets.  Aha, capitalism claims to be the engine behind all good works as if there was never a good result in life before mercantile greed.  If not for our greed would there have been a light bulb or penicillin.  (That is a question I have honestly been asked.)

Aha, cops work for power.  Aha, the army works for power.  Aha, given an order to shoot protesters sitting peacefully we now must realize that the rank and file of our militarized “crowd control” would fire without reservation.  They would find an excuse; the courts would excuse them.  We would bury our dead.

Governments work for corporations.  Armies of governments work for corporations.  We call this national security.  We all know it is injustice.  What can we do?

These are monstrous times.  All times are bad times, you pithily respond.  May you live in interesting times, you quote, probably unaware the proverb is Chinese. I don’t think these are interesting times at all.

What makes our monstrosity far worse then ever before, if not in scale, though I think we must account western economic intervention for the last 100 years a kind of war akin to Gengis Kahn’s campaigns of slaughter, is that we honestly know better.  That we honestly know it is unjust.  That we honestly know we have “discovered” enough to put our hubristic minds to use for the greater good.

Instead, we still conquer, steal, abuse.  We do it now via “detachment.”  It is our modern method (our modern major generals, the late Jobs, the still-kicking and stealing Bill Gates) to detach the human from community caring at the very juncture of our worst crisis: Famine, drought, climate change (undoubted and speeding toward us faster than any predictive model has shown), war, invasion, diminishing resources (we should worry over water far more than oil).

In the midst of this, Tom Suck On This Friedman decries poor parenting.  Honest.

One way to gauge how to respond to this is that the National Review simply pasted the whole column into their online blog and said that Friedman is 100% right (a play, I suppose, on the 99% and 1% divide).

So, what does Friedman say in his column, “How About Better Parents?”  With that title you’d think that he must say something profound about parenting; about the difficulties of parenting in a world of constant distractions; about how parents, because they hated school like their kids, are somewhat antagonistic towards school; maybe something about how schools, in the form of teachers and principals are institutions of domination that preclude involvement; how schools are just another version of “the man.”  I mean that’s a meaty and complex thing to talk about, right?

None of that.  Rather he just says that parents ought to read to children when they’re young, oh and talk with them.

Really, that’s it.  No argument there, right?  Seems to me that all we need to do now is stop every reform effort that’s out there from proceeding.  Stop every “entrepreneurial” scam that’s being forced on our kids via the “open market” proposals of our criminals in our public offices.  Stop everything, hold everything, just wait a minute.

Reading is not only fundamental, it’s FREE!

But what is Friedman’s column really showcasing?  It seems to me as if he just wants to parrot particular population managers without much actual consideration.  In a sense, by Friedman offering it to NYT readers, there continues the legitimization of the measurement class.  So, in this column we give high place to Andreas Schleicher of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D. (the Errant has mentioned this guru before in “Putting the Pieces Together“) who is the master of the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA–that is international standards testing so that global managers can compare their penises in the guise of the intelligence of their labor market.  It’s from the work of the OECD and PISA that we get the brilliant chestnut Tommy shares with us today–Read more.

Hey, I just used my reading skills to confirm (because my parents read to me as a child I already knew what I’m about to suggest) that Galileo dropped two stones of different masses from the tower at Pisa (was it leaning at the time?) as an experiment that would disprove an untested claim of Aristotle’s (armchair thinker that he was).  Aha, I get it; that science will cure all ills is the acronymic analogy that Andreas has brilliantly and subtly encoded in his program’s name!  However, what Galileo really taught us, is that life (and the laws of life) are all one big experiment.  And as Emerson tells us in “Circles” (I know you know this), all circles admit of being outdone.  We are always drawing circles encompassing previous circles.  I wouldn’t call this a “progression myth” but rather an “adjustment engine.”  We are wrong all the time.  And Andreas is too.  But he’s got a big PISA score!

Friedman then draws our attention to another important person we should listen to: Patte Barth, the director of the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education.  Tommy quotes Barth from a recent editorial regarding that Association’s own studies regarding parental involvement (I might take this report on in a later post).

“Monitoring homework; making sure children get to school; rewarding their efforts and talking up the idea of going to college

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. These parent actions are linked to better attendance, grades, test scores, and preparation for college,” Barth wrote. “The study found that getting parents involved with their children’s learning at home is a more powerful driver of achievement than parents attending P.T.A. and school board meetings, volunteering in classrooms, participating in fund-raising, and showing up at back-to-school nights.”

Also, Barth makes a point to tell us that whitey goes to PTA meetings while blacky checks homework.  Race must always be a factor, right?  I mean we are so different!  What does yellow do?  Shame and banishment!  I’ll do my sociological bit: whitey IS the man and so feels comfortable in the man’s institutions, feels comfortable telling the man when the man is wrong too and if you don’t watch out he’ll just start his own school or run for school board and get you fired; blacky knows that institutions that look like prisons are like prisons.  “How was prison today, dear?” Better to keep those conversations in the home in hushed tones.

But what bugs me most about all of this, is that it presupposes and privileges one goal for education and by extension the normative goal for human beings generally.  Barth and groups like Common Core State Standards put college “preparedness” on their lists first and foremost (that is, furthering debt burdens for the good of society); this is usually tied with “achievement,” the kind which one can only measure by “testing” success or career success.

School, then, is defined by these groups as only a means to a labor market end; school is a place to learn how to fulfill business needs; schools are ways that governments promote their labor markets to the corporations of the world.  I propose to stand against this very strongly.

But back to Tommy.

Friedman is a guy who tells you what you want to hear.  He sticks his finger in his mouth then holds it in the air and writes about the direction of the wind.  Yes, parents are educators; blaming teachers for systemic failure is only political.  In the end, he really says nothing worth your time.  Unless, like me (yes, be like me!), you read him antagonistically.  Everything he says, every link he offers, every expert that testifies before his court of political whimsy, must be interrogated.

Normally, thinking the opposite of what Friedman proposes is good practice; though of course, when it comes to the value of reading and interaction involving human beings–reading to children–he is 100% right.  I don’t know that we needed PISA to tell us that, did we?



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1 Comment

  1. Sarah Stup November 21, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Sounds like Friedman threw in the towel on this one. Or maybe not…he doesn’t want to blame the system so he decided to blame parents for the fact that their kids can’t exceed in an every increasingly itemized educational environment. “The reason your public educated kids are less adept than MY kids is because you don’t read to yours.” You can bet Friedman’s kids don’t go to public school. I used to live in his neck of the woods. I’d bet his kids are at G’town Prep and he wrote this article to secure a seat on the PTA.


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