"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

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 doesn’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 great—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 ‘residencies’ with master teachers [student teaching on steroids] and performance standards [testing targets]— not content standards [not Dewey or Vygotsky]— 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 Foundation’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.
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;

# Build educational systems capacity and teaching practices both online and in the classroom to reach large numbers of students using deeper learning principles;

# 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; and

# Develop new, innovative models to increase access for all students and to improve deeper learning.
Getting the picture???]

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.


  1. I actually like Tony Wagner personally--he was a nice guy when I interacted with him--but you are so right--his attempts to be the Tom Friedman of Education are ridiculous, and tie him up in knots. I tell the story of my dealings with him in a blog post that you might find amusing:


  2. I'm always astounded at the ability of these corporate shills to find new twists and turns of language to proffer their same discredited ideas. Sadly, the don't seem to need too much gauzy paper for those outside of academia.

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