Suck on this!

What I learned from Thomas Friedman this morning in the New York Times:

  • No one cares what you learn in college, because Google!
  • College professors have no certification that we can teach, and all we do is lecture at students who passively take notes, and then administer tests of their passive learning skills.
  • Lecturing to 14,000 “with audience participation” is a terrific way to share knowledge.

I just love these experts in “disruptive innovation” who trash learning in college classrooms and lecture halls with 15, 40, or 125 students because “all professors do is lecture,” who then turn around and brag about how scalable their educational model is because–wait for it!–it’s based on lectures!  To 14,000 people who swooned like bobby-soxers fainting for Frank Sinatra.

Anyone up for invading Iraq again?  Because that worked out so well, according to Thomas “We hit Iraq because we could” Friedman!


32 thoughts on “Suck on this!

  1. Technology will never take the place of human-interaction, not in the college classroom or my husband’s high school classroom. But I do take the point that higher ed programs need to be more malleable in order to serve people’s real life needs and professional desires. Most history PhD programs do not account for working professionals who would like to attain the degree for career/personal advancement. They are rigid structures that turns out wanna-be tenure track professors with little hope of getting the job they want in an extremely competitive and small market. So, while most of what he says makes him sound like a total wanker, I do agree at least with his statement: “We still need more research on what works, but standing still is not an option.” I guess if that is all PhDs are for as described above, then that is pretty sad and deflates the purpose of my field of “public” history.


  2. I just love these experts in “disruptive innovation” who trash learning in college classrooms and lecture halls with 15, 40, or 125 students because “all professors do is lecture,” who then turn around and brag about how scalable their educational model is because–wait for it!–it’s based on lectures!

    That is the head-scratcher, isn’t it? Also the idea that it’s great for students to interact with each other online, but, apparently, just not worth the expense to set up systems that would allow students to interact with teachers (preferably the one(s) who designed and regularly revise the class) online. That, in some critiques, ruins the “student-centeredness” of online ed.

    As far as I can tell, the more labor-intensive a teaching approach is (and the more invisible the labor — e.g. setting students an inquiry-based/skill-developing task, and then shepherding them through it, treading that fine line between being aware of what they’re doing and ready to intervene if truly necessary, and letting them make, and correct, some of their own mistakes), the less interested the edupreneurs are. This, of course, tends to expose their underlying assumptions/motivations: cheap approaches, especially so far as teaching labor goes, are good approaches.


  3. Friedman doubts our competence? I doubt his. In addition to his spectacular misreading of Iraq, he’s been wrong umpteen times in print. Today’s words read like a parody of his Homespun Wisdom from my Driver at Davos about the Future of the G8 journalistic method.

    How about reviewing the credentials and skills of rich columnists with bully pulpits? Is Tom Friedman the best his employer can do? Or even good enough to keep his job?


  4. HA-ha. That ventriloqy with his taxi/car drivers is a justifiably and widely mocked trope, isn’t it?

    Friedman is a clown. Most of the people pushing MOOCs and online ed are clowns. I’m not saying that all proffies are brilliant, but most of us have survived the brutal winnowing process of our job market, which has been in crisis for 40+ years now.

    Rachel, I agree with you that there are too many Ph.D. programs focused on creating scholars for whom there is no market. But, a lot of public historians resist the notion that the Ph.D. should become the standard of the profession. Some of my colleagues say that the M.A. should remain the highest degree. I think you will have to find a Ph.D. program and an advisor or advisors who will support you in your goals–and it seems to me like some kind of distance learning would be reasonable for someone like you. (We used to just call these “independent studies,” and left it up to the professors and students to work out how many times they met and in what setting/contect! Seems to me like emails and SKYPE can substitute for a number of these meetings, if not all of them.)


  5. The guy’s a total toad and shill who’s just auditioning for more face-time (ironically) in the Times Center, where people can pay $58 for tickets to sit in the grove of indoor birch trees and listen to him moderate three actual celebutantes hold forth on the “scaleability revolution.” Getting the information at the top of the column about the Harvard guru/”driver’s” colorful sneakers and Q-score in Korea definitely increased the credibility of the insights presented below. And they didn’t give Timothy Leary tenure up there?!?

    The Times is slowly leaving its actual paper behind to retreat into the lucrative world of the Times Center, the Times Store (buy actual slivers of illegal Civil War boats and U.S. Patent Office models somehow mysteriously acquired), and aligning itself with the entrepreneurial forces of the silicon revolution. The cheesy newsprint gets harder and harder to actually handle physically by the week. That’s sort of the whole idea.


  6. This is not a question of technology, online teaching or the NYT. It’s the same problem Krugman bitches about daily, it’s the same problem many of us faced since elementary school. There is this group of “experts” or pundits with low intelligence, limited creativity and track record of being wrong who dominate the headlines.

    Thomas Friedman knows nothing, understands nothing and creates nothing correct. Nevertheless, he has a NYT column, write false books and people listen to.

    That’s the way the world works.


  7. There seems to be a developing field of Thomas Friedman Studies: I’m surprised there is no edited collection yet. I envision the cover of the book as a big, grainy blowup of “the moustache”.


  8. koshembos: You’re not going to take me to task for being against MOOCs and online education? (Or are you having second thoughts now because you find yourself allied with Tom Friedman on this?)

    I’m teasing, mostly–only a little bit serious here.

    Do the people who drive Friedman around town actually think he’s a well-respected and important public intellectual? Because I find that very hard to believe. If I had a cause I wanted to publicize, the last person in the world I’d want on my side is the Moustache of Understanding.


  9. The thing I thought was interesting was his acknowledgement that the key to the San Jose course was the human interaction. So I’m beginning to think of MOOCs and other such things as potential replacements for textbooks. So you send your students to watch X person on topic A, but Y person on topic B. But you have related readings, and you discuss, question, critique. Of course it means I’d have to spend ages watching these damned lectures…


  10. That’s what I do already! (Mostly because I can’t stand to read the textbooks, so why should I make them do something I don’t want to do?)

    But, I have the privilege of teaching American history, which is something that most native-born students have at least 2 years of this in junior high and high school. The challenge for American historians is disrupting the narrative they’ve already learned, whereas I understand that historians of the rest of the world have to insist that the students learn the basic factual narrative alongside/in addition to whatever historiographical or analytical readings they want the students to read, too.


  11. Thomas Friedman sleeps and I do too. We also live about 5 miles from each other. That is as far as our similarities go. Why is anyone paying attention to him is beyond me.

    Friedman actually claims that education on any level is a waste of time. No attempt will surpass that stupidity.


  12. I actually commented on the editorial — a first for me. Friedman, who PERSONALLY knows the prof teaching the course, and has had a whole car-ride of interactions with him, wishes impersonal relationships on all of his students, with the chance (1 in 2,000 or so) of a little interaction. Oh, the irony! Oh, the learning!

    Having just had a student leave class today telling me that I taught from a totally new perspective to him and that reading, discussing and writing about Freud really made him think — well, kudos the possibilities of classroom teaching — even on a student, who a this moment, has a C+. Yes, Mr. Friedman, the useless C+ student.

    But hey, all he really needs is a MOOC.


  13. Pingback: Thomas Friedman and Bad-Faith Technological Utopianism « metropolitan history

  14. Hi joellecid–nice to hear from you again. And congratulations to YOU for working a wonder with your low-tech human presence and analytical and rhetorical skills.

    Anyone still following this thread should check out the link above to the post at metropolitan history. That blogger also has a terrific story about the value of human contact and intellectual growth in f2f teaching, and why the Thomas Friedmans of the world still send their children to Yale and Williams, where those interactions will still take place no matter what the cost.


  15. All of these points that we’re saying in the comments and on our blogs–that MOOCs will create a greater educational divide between the elite university students and MOOC proles, that the results are unproven and not even being tested, that this will replace quality education–are ones we keep making. I keep wondering why none of this gets addressed, except in the most craven “Well, some spoilsport critics say that maybe MOOCs aren’t great, but we know better!” way, in places like the NY Times.

    On the other hand, if all it takes to practice Friedman bloviation–er, journalism–is this kind of writing, then maybe we can all have jobs at the NY Times in between our stints as glorified tutors for the MOOC superstars.


  16. You know, my worry is that this is exactly the sort of op-ed that circulates among Trustees, and that makes trouble on campuses. Until university presidents are willing to say, collectively, that Friedman and his ilk don’t know what they are talking about, we’ll keep having this problem.

    Moi? I promise that if I ever get a gig at the Times, I will sit in my NYC apartment, order in, stream everything, and write popular essays on how to reform the military top to bottom, a topic about which I know bubkis. My first proposal? The new Boeing Sikorsky helicopter. See what google taught me?


  17. Lance, you’re too modest. Here’s the link to Lance’s post on “Why Tom Friedman is Wrong.”

    You make the point here and in your post that leadership from university presidents and chancellors matters. If some of them would stand up for academic and democratic values, that would help counter the breathless utopian promises of the Friedmans and the Courseras and the Udacities, that as undine also suggests are never countered.

    Here’s undine’s post–a post that points out how little esteem actual “real life” employers have for online degrees. This is what’s hilarious to me: the people promising that traditional higher ed is the “next bubble,” when all signs point to online ed as the only true bubble (breathless unrealistic hopes that it alone has found the key to a major problem, ridiculously optimistic projections for the money to be made, AND NOW TOM FRIEDMAN!!! Why not call for a victory ceremony aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and declare victory now?)


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  20. Pingback: Why Tom Friedman is Wrong | matthew pratt guterl

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