Thursday, January 18, 2007

Public Education in the Flat World

Educating Each Student to be a Thriving Citizen.

January 13, 2007

Dear Colleagues,

I recently completed The World is Flat – A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times. In sum he traces the tremendous changes that have and are occurring – leading up to and during the first few years of this new century.

Clearly, technological changes have had significant impact on how the flattening of the world and how people all over the world access information and how business is conducted in a far different manner than in recent times. I won’t go into the details of the book and encourage you all to read it – actually I listened to it.

Of significance to us as educators are the challenges and opportunities that our “flattening world” provide for us. Our students will live in a far different world than today. No longer can we assume that we will dominate the world economy and that our current approaches in all endeavors will lead the way. Students in many other countries (India and China for example) no longer are lagging us but in some ways are gaining advantages in key professions such as engineering. If our nation is to maintain its leadership role we have to step up to some challenges and of course, some of those challenges are in education. While we may not be in a crisis, Friedman quotes another writer by saying: “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

Part of the book addressed what Friedman calls “compassionate flatism” of which there are five components. One of those components is parenting. In his discourse on parenting two passages struck me. The first is the role of parents:

Helping individuals adapt to a flat world is not only the job of governments and companies. It is the job of parents. They too need to know in what world their kids are growing up and what it will take for them to thrive. Put simply, we need a new generation of parents ready to administer tough love: There comes a time when you’ve got to put away the Game Boys, turn off the television set, put away the iPod, and get your kids down to work. . . . The sense of entitlement, the sense that because we once dominated global commence and geopolitics . . . we always will . . . the sense that our kids have to be swaddled in cotton wool so nothing bad or disappointing or stressful happens to them at school is, quite simply a growing cancer on American society.

However, he addresses an important concept, the role of public education.

David Baltimore, the Nobel Prize-winning president of Caltech, knows what it takes to get your child ready to compete against the cream of the global crop. He told me that he is struck by the fact that almost all the students who make it to Caltech, one of the best scientific universities in the world, come from public schools, not from private schools that sometimes nurture a sense of just because you are there, you are special and entitled. . . . Baltimore said: “I give parents enormous credit for this, because these kids are all coming from public schools that people are calling failures. Public education is producing these remarkable students – so it can be done.

We know it can be done because we are doing it every day in our schools.

I welcome any responses. Hope you have a great week.


Students First * Success Focus
Data Driven * Positive Relationships


Wendy, Summit HS Library said...


I read The World is Flat last year and it’s hard NOT to keep Friedman’s thoughts uppermost in my thoughts as I oversee the library here at Summit. There are a lot of kids here who, indeed, think they’re going to make it in today’s world by skating by. Granted we have a large number of students who are high achievers, who will succeed no matter where they choose to go or what they choose to do (and they undoubtedly have parents that modeled that ambition.) It’s the average kids I’m worried about: their parents care about them and think that as long as they attend class and get their homework in, it will be enough. Already colleges are complaining that kids can’t write, do college level math (hence remedial classes that don’t count towards a diploma but still cost that $85+/tuition hour and impinge on taking a full-load), or think for themselves—all they can do is regurgitate facts. And we’re worried that increasing the standards for a high school diploma is going to be too hard for our kids to achieve?! Here’s a scary statistic: China has more Honor students in their country than the US has total students, and their not afraid to work hard an get the science and math they need to succeed in the New World.

Wendy Collins
Summit HS Library

Chip said...


Thanks for sharing this with all of us. Peggy and I did this book this last summer and have had many discussions. I think Friedman is a visionary person, and wish that he would assume a leadership role at the national level.

On a closely related theme, this past weekend my family watched “An Inconvenient Truth”. This film by Al Gore is a must see. Gore, like Friedman, exhorts an immediate call to action.


Marlene said...

Those are definitely interesting thoughts. I only wish that along with all the technological advances, our world could see some peace. The civil and world unrest seems to escalate along with all the advances.

Thanks for listening.


Amy Yillik Downer, Bend High said...

Dr. Nelson,

I enjoyed your email and was reminded of Steinberg's work "Beyond the Classroom," which reviews research that identifies the most important factor in student success as parental style and involvement (regardless of SES or educational setting).

Pairing that with the work of Pipher "In the Shelter of Each Other," in which she discusses our changing society & pressures families face, I am reminded that my job as a school psychologist is to not "just test kids", but to provide families education and goal setting support as well. I am sure your leisure reading time is very limited, but these two works have been very influential in my practice and perspective on student learning.

If you haven't read them, you may find them interesting and insightful.

I look forward to reading your recommendation (and re-reading the other two books as well!)

Best Wishes,

Amy Yillik Downer, EdD
School Psychologist
Bend Senior High School

Linda (Bo) Bonotto said...

Hi Doug…

enjoyed your comments about the book (Jerry and I have both read it) and found it as you did, totally relevant to today’s teaching community.

It would be good if every teacher, administrator and student read it and was able to discuss it in an open, objective manner. Things have changed so greatly for all us in this profession in the past years. I’m probably now among the few remaining staff in this district who used typewriters, carbon paper and mimeo machines!!

With all the technology, the flattening, the shrinking, the exchanging, every aspect of globalization, the teaching profession and public education and, as mentioned, the role of parents are more important than ever. We must not lose sight of the fact that competition and material possessions on any level, are not the only worthy goals of an educated community.

What about the ability to work together, communicate, feel compassion, strive for peace and the overall improvement in living conditions for all of earth’s inhabitants?

We ALL have a lot of work!!

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and the great job you continue to do.

Best always, Bo

Bend La Pine School District
Resource Conservation Coordinator

Tim Chase, La Pine High said...


These are just thoughts with no particular point to them, other than your email struck a chord in me and then you closed by welcoming my response. So you got it! :)

I think about global trends often, particularly in relation to my own pre-school kids and the middle school kids I teach. I think China and the US will be the cold war of my kid's experience. I think that many jobs will cease to exist or will dramatically change in my lifetime, not because of automation and robots, but because of communication. I try to look for the trends and then teach my kids to lift their eyes to the horizon and make plans for what the world will be like when they get there, not what the world was like when their parents got there.

My job description is to teach reading and a couple of computer skills classes, but my mission is to prepare kids to make good life choices for themselves and positive contributions to their communities. That's why you'll find kids in my middle school reading classes e-negotiating in a game with German classes and using interactive mapping tools to explore other cultures. My kids practice writing resumés for our November College Days, and then they do mock interviews on video so they can evaluate themselves then re-do the interview for improvement points. It's not exactly in my curriculum (though I can usually find a CCG or two to apply to the projects, but these projects and skills are squarely in my mission statement.

Good email. Thought provoking!

Technology has a bigger place in tomorrow's education than most people even dream right now.


Sue Carroll said...

HI Doug

I haven’t read the book yet, but my husband Tom has. I forwarded this email on to him. I must say from our experiences that what you say resonates with us.

Our 2 boys were educated in Bend schools and I think are doing very well. I think they got an excellent education and I can freely and enthusiastically tell that to parents who have young children in Bend and wonder about the state of our schools.

I agree with the point about parents needing to act with “tough love”. We can’t raise a new generation to be complacent and have a sense of entitlement. It’s a huge disservice to the children and our country.

The world is changing. It is becoming flatter.....

Sue Carroll