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Old 09-14-2010, 07:01 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Is it really that simple? Work harder?

I came across this piece while browsing the NYTimes this evening. I am posting it in its entirety instead of hiding part, as it's not too long, and I feel reading it is essential to the discussion.

Quote:
We’re No. 1(1)!
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

I want to share a couple of articles I recently came across that, I believe, speak to the core of what ails America today but is too little discussed. The first was in Newsweek under the ironic headline “We’re No. 11!” The piece, by Michael Hirsh, went on to say: “Has the United States lost its oomph as a superpower? Even President Obama isn’t immune from the gloom. ‘Americans won’t settle for No. 2!’ Obama shouted at one political rally in early August. How about No. 11? That’s where the U.S.A. ranks in Newsweek’s list of the 100 best countries in the world, not even in the top 10.”

The second piece, which could have been called “Why We’re No. 11,” was by the Washington Post economics columnist Robert Samuelson. Why, he asked, have we spent so much money on school reform in America and have so little to show for it in terms of scalable solutions that produce better student test scores? Maybe, he answered, it is not just because of bad teachers, weak principals or selfish unions.

“The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation,” wrote Samuelson. “Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren’t motivated, even capable teachers may fail. Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a ‘good’ college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure. The unstated assumption of much school ‘reform’ is that if students aren’t motivated, it’s mainly the fault of schools and teachers.” Wrong, he said. “Motivation is weak because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don’t like school, don’t work hard and don’t do well. In a 2008 survey of public high school teachers, 21 percent judged student absenteeism a serious problem; 29 percent cited ‘student apathy.’ ”

There is a lot to Samuelson’s point — and it is a microcosm of a larger problem we have not faced honestly as we have dug out of this recession: We had a values breakdown — a national epidemic of get-rich-quickism and something-for-nothingism. Wall Street may have been dealing the dope, but our lawmakers encouraged it. And far too many of us were happy to buy the dot-com and subprime crack for quick prosperity highs.

Ask yourself: What made our Greatest Generation great? First, the problems they faced were huge, merciless and inescapable: the Depression, Nazism and Soviet Communism. Second, the Greatest Generation’s leaders were never afraid to ask Americans to sacrifice. Third, that generation was ready to sacrifice, and pull together, for the good of the country. And fourth, because they were ready to do hard things, they earned global leadership the only way you can, by saying: “Follow me.”

Contrast that with the Baby Boomer Generation. Our big problems are unfolding incrementally — the decline in U.S. education, competitiveness and infrastructure, as well as oil addiction and climate change. Our generation’s leaders never dare utter the word “sacrifice.” All solutions must be painless. Which drug would you like? A stimulus from Democrats or a tax cut from Republicans? A national energy policy? Too hard. For a decade we sent our best minds not to make computer chips in Silicon Valley but to make poker chips on Wall Street, while telling ourselves we could have the American dream — a home — without saving and investing, for nothing down and nothing to pay for two years. Our leadership message to the world (except for our brave soldiers): “After you.”

So much of today’s debate between the two parties, notes David Rothkopf, a Carnegie Endowment visiting scholar, “is about assigning blame rather than assuming responsibility. It’s a contest to see who can give away more at precisely the time they should be asking more of the American people.”

Rothkopf and I agreed that we would get excited about U.S. politics when our national debate is between Democrats and Republicans who start by acknowledging that we can’t cut deficits without both tax increases and spending cuts — and then debate which ones and when — who acknowledge that we can’t compete unless we demand more of our students — and then debate longer school days versus school years — who acknowledge that bad parents who don’t read to their kids and do indulge them with video games are as responsible for poor test scores as bad teachers — and debate what to do about that.

Who will tell the people? China and India have been catching up to America not only via cheap labor and currencies. They are catching us because they now have free markets like we do, education like we do, access to capital and technology like we do, but, most importantly, values like our Greatest Generation had. That is, a willingness to postpone gratification, invest for the future, work harder than the next guy and hold their kids to the highest expectations.

In a flat world where everyone has access to everything, values matter more than ever. Right now the Hindus and Confucians have more Protestant ethics than we do, and as long as that is the case we’ll be No. 11!
Is it really that simple? Have we lost our motivation and become a nation that expects instant gratification?

I think Friedman is on to something, especially considering how much of our consumer boom in the last ten plus years was fueled by easy credit. What happened to hard work and savings? Where did we lose that? I don't think it's necessarily fair to pin that one on Baby Boomers, because one of the hardest workers I know is my dad, a Boomer.

Despite the fact that I think he has a point, I don't think it is as simple as a loss of motivation. I think the point he has stems mostly from the fact that right now, we have some big problems with no easy answers or easy solutions, and to solve them, we have to face some truly hard choices.

What do you think? Do we just need to buckle down, work harder, and save more? I realize I am barely scratching the surface as far as this conversation could go, but I'd like to see it get started.
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Old 09-14-2010, 07:27 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Normally I might say yes, A little more hard work is all that is necessary -- but after watching my husband in his job search the past four months, I'm starting to wonder. He has an MBA, good connections, and a solid background. He has an incredible work ethic and the recommendations to back it up. And yet in these four months, with at least one seemingly ideal lead offered every single day, he has only been asked to one interview. This is a terrible time to be looking for work, and an even worse time for young entrepreneurs who want to start their own small businesses.

I don't know what will happen or how it will all play out, I definitely don't see viable solutions offered by any side of the political spectrum or any ideology. We are able to scrape by for now, but I know many others who are unable. I do think that a bit of lifestyle adjustment to frugality will help a great many people, but when you are already living with an income that amounts to half the poverty line, there isn't much more you can save.

Last edited by genuinegirly; 09-14-2010 at 07:30 PM..
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Old 09-14-2010, 07:39 PM   #3 (permalink)
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People aren't interested in delayed gratification. They aren't interested in sacrifice for greater good. They pay lip service to it all, by saying "I don't have to change, I've already changed," when that is far far from the truth.

Sure it's work a little harder, but you have to do it smartly. There's no reason to work harder when it doesn't pay out at all.
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Old 09-14-2010, 07:44 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Education has lost its value in our society when it becomes something everyone can get.

I have seen sparks of the past when things like gas crunches and empty gas stations in AZ a few years ago come up - all of the sudden you have to re-evaluate your entire way of life when you can no longer fuel your vehicle to get where you need to go.

I think it'd be interesting to compare areas like New Orleans to the rest of the United states. They are in a process of rebuilding and I wonder if there is a way to quantitate the social values of that region now.
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Old 09-14-2010, 08:09 PM   #5 (permalink)
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I think a lot of this has to do with the educational environment. The encouragement of competitiveness and achievement have been all but completely removed, if I'm not mistaken. It's nearly impossible to fail until you get to college or university.

I think much of it has to do with the style of teaching as well. Many students don't respond well to being lectured at and then told to write down what they've learned. They'd rather engage in a two-way communication, or at least have a more hands-on and engaging experience. And it's even more so the case today because kids are used to that because of the Internet and other technologies they've grown up with.

Class sizes are too big. I'm guessing that's a big problem too.

---------- Post added at 12:09 AM ---------- Previous post was at 12:07 AM ----------

Quote:
Originally Posted by amonkie View Post
Education has lost its value in our society when it becomes something everyone can get.
I sometimes wish I didn't go beyond high school.
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Old 09-14-2010, 08:37 PM   #6 (permalink)
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This is why no one cares about an education--

The media promotes stupidity as a desirable trait. "You, too, can get paid and be famous, if you're a bigger douchebag than the last guy."

---------- Post added at 11:37 PM ---------- Previous post was at 11:33 PM ----------

Quote:
Originally Posted by amonkie View Post
Education has lost its value in our society when it becomes something everyone can get.
I don't know what this means.
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Old 09-14-2010, 10:08 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Fugly I think he's saying that the market for educated professionals is over saturated and a degree no longer carries the weight it once did because its everyone has one.

I've often wondered if part of the problem isn't our modern view of childhood. We've extended adolescence well into our early 20's and encourage our young to stay that way for as long as possible. Kids aren't expected to work hard and help provide for the family anymore instead they should be playing and enjoying childhood with little to no worries, sheltered from the harshness of the real world. Perhaps that slow immersion into the real world was crucial towards developing adult who understood responsibility and hard work. Have we in our desire to build the perfect world for our children created a society full of adults who were never taught how to be adults?

Is hard work and living within your means the answer? To some extent, there is always money to be made for somebody who isn't afraid to get dirt under his finger nails (are you willing to mow lawns, dig ditches, work a harvest or deliver papers to keep yourself afloat?) or go to night school and study hard regardless of the 10 hour shift he works everyday. Do we really need that new car this year? Is it the answer to all of our problems? Of course not but it certainly couldn't hurt.
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Old 09-15-2010, 07:35 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Baraka_Guru View Post

[/COLOR]I sometimes wish I didn't go beyond high school.
Then I doubt you would be the BG we know and love to be corrected by,
BG.

My take is that it's possible that we've had it too good for too long, and
have been putting off for tomorrow what we do not wish to pay for today.
Canada's debt is better than the US, but we are both still in massive holes
of debt.
What did we get with it? New roads, hospitals, better health care? No,
overseas (military) adventures and tax cuts that let us consume more goods
that are chucked out tomorrow.

I like the way this thread is going and can't wait to see what comes next.

I think everyone so far has added something interesting.
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Old 09-15-2010, 07:40 AM   #9 (permalink)
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I have a problem with blaming students for a poor educational system. They only get what they are given, as far as training/education. I know my daughter works from the time she gets home, until the time she goes to bed, and a lot of that time is learning what she should have been taught in class, so that she can do the homework assigned. "What did they do in class time?", you might ask. Well they were busy going over the End Of Grade test strategies ad nauseum and never got around to teaching the courses. It happens a lot. And I do have some empathy for parents who are overworked, if they are lucky enough to have a job, and don't have as much time to spend with the kids as they would like, to encourage them to work on school assignments.

There are many problems with this country, and laziness is but one of them. We expect too much for what little we do. I include the rich here, as their expectations of ROI are completely unrealistic, and have caused much of the recent economic upheaval.
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Old 09-15-2010, 08:02 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wes Mantooth View Post
Fugly I think he's saying that the market for educated professionals is over saturated and a degree no longer carries the weight it once did because its everyone has one.

I've often wondered if part of the problem isn't our modern view of childhood. We've extended adolescence well into our early 20's and encourage our young to stay that way for as long as possible. Kids aren't expected to work hard and help provide for the family anymore instead they should be playing and enjoying childhood with little to no worries, sheltered from the harshness of the real world. Perhaps that slow immersion into the real world was crucial towards developing adult who understood responsibility and hard work. Have we in our desire to build the perfect world for our children created a society full of adults who were never taught how to be adults?
I think this actually stems from our increasing knowledge of the human brain. The fact is, development of the frontal lobe, including executive function, isn't complete until around age 25. There has to be a balance between teaching those under 25 responsibility and doing it in such a way that they learn it without lasting, permanent consequences (such as a criminal record/serious incarceration). I bring up that latter example because one of the saddest things I see us doing to ourselves as a country is punishing juveniles as adults. Also, I know plenty of people who did work as teens and young adults--but because of the recession, those jobs have largely dried up, and if you're 16 and looking for work right now, good luck.

I think one of the things that might address the root of this issue is parenting classes. Despite what others might think, learning to parent is not entirely about fuzzy, warm feelings. A good chunk of any class on parenting is about positive discipline--how to teach your child to behave so that they understand why they need to behave that way, and how to do it in a way that solves the problem directly. Further, it teaches parents how to teach things like responsibility to their children.

One thing I see a lot is that parents expect the public school system to teach their child everything they need to know--they expect their child to be taught social norms alongside everything academic. The problem with this is that teaching social norms and socializing a child is intense work--I know because this is what I do every day, working in early childhood education, and I have to be able to work one-on-one with each student for a period of time to correct behavior and explain why we don't do that (see positive discipline above). In public school classrooms, this is next to impossible because of larger class sizes, and it's crucial, especially as students start dragging things like Facebook into the classroom. During adolescence in particular, kids have to relearn how to socialize because of their changing bodies and changing relationships.

While I know parents around here have pretty reasonable expectations of what a school can and cannot do, other parents do not. This is just one thing we're struggling with. This is another reason why assessment as it stands is faulty--there are factors beyond the control of the teacher that play out in assessment. If a parent isn't supporting their child at home appropriately, or if that child hasn't eaten breakfast the day of the test, that shows up in the scores. Does the parent get blamed for that? No, of course not.

Baraka: The lack of competition is why most schools end up with multiple valedictorians.

And iliftrocks: in the various schools I've worked in in recent years, the school with the highest scores on standardized tests was the school that focused on teaching students in unit-based lessons instead of teaching to the test. I think teachers and schools alike are shooting themselves in the foot by teaching to the test.
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Old 09-15-2010, 08:43 AM   #11 (permalink)
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I agree that a school that teaches the basics and teaches them well would probably do best on the tests. I had a pretty good education, and didn't really have trouble with standardized testing. Unfortunately, at least here, it seems easier for them to teach to the test.
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Old 09-15-2010, 11:22 AM   #12 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by snowy View Post
I think one of the things that might address the root of this issue is parenting classes. Despite what others might think, learning to parent is not entirely about fuzzy, warm feelings. A good chunk of any class on parenting is about positive discipline--how to teach your child to behave so that they understand why they need to behave that way, and how to do it in a way that solves the problem directly. Further, it teaches parents how to teach things like responsibility to their children.
This is kind of what I was trying to get at last night. If we look at previous generations it wasn't uncommon to expect children to carry their own weight to support the family, that didn't necessarily mean getting a job but rather chores around the house or farm. From a very young age a child learns that life isn't a free ride and by the time he reaches adulthood (or close to it) he's been conditioned to accept that life isn't all about fun and living for the moment. I wonder if in today's world the those values are being lost through letting junior spend Saturday playing video games and not mowing the lawn (or whatever). It almost seems like our modern world is emphasizing the nurturing but not the discipline. The warm and fuzzy.

Education is similar and only made worse by parents foisting their responsibility on the educators and the educators demanding the parents do the work, meanwhile nobody really wants to take responsibility for raising the child. Teachers are coddling teenagers through assignments/tests and not doing enough to teach these kids that safety nets don't always exist and they may have to succeed or fail on their own merits. If the parents aren't doing that either why should we expect that when our kids grow into adults they are going to know any better?

Anyway I agree that we need to adjust our philosophy towards raising kids to better reflect what we know about the human brain and how learning really works but we can't forget that what we do now will impact the type of adult we produce.
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Old 09-15-2010, 01:16 PM   #13 (permalink)
 
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Quote:
Is it really that simple? Work harder?
no.

thomas friedman is a putz. consistently a putz. sometimes i think that being a putz is his job. "hey tom, what's the putz perspective on this question?" "well, dave..."

if there's a problem at the level of disposition that i saw while teaching in university, it was intellectual passivity, a culture of generalized obsequiousness, excessive deference to authority and a reward system that encourages it. i don't know how this works on the way through primary then secondary schools, but by the time kids get to 18 and are eager little college cherubs, they're really well trained in the institutionally sanctioned modes of passivity that best allow them to get over in primary and secondary schools. alot of them run into adjustment problems in college, but the same substructure of pliant passivity sits on another of adaptability (another feature of obsequiousness) and so they adapt in the main.

what's stunning in this is that kids coming out of secondary schools aren't given the tools to think independently. not really. they're given the tools required to reproduce information that already exists. the move elements around but aren't so good at thinking about what these elements are. it seemed almost systematic to me over a decade or so of teaching. i never despaired about it.

and these were smart kids in the main, too. i taught at very good schools.

i don't think the secondary system is training kids for much of anything beyond reproduction of a static order. but nothing is static. so there's a basic dysfunction at the core of how dispositions are being shaped. i blame conservatives for it---fear of independent thinking, fear of questioning, fear of dissent. but that's in fact way way too simple.

there's alot more that could be said but i gots to go.

interesting thread.

and friedman is still a putz.
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Old 09-15-2010, 01:37 PM   #14 (permalink)
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not to threadjack or anything, but i've finally read something posted by rb that, not only can i understand in it's entirety, but totally agree with in substance (not that i've ever not agreed with his stances before...)

i have no answers in terms of how to address the problem(s) set forth in the OP, but it would seem that the values instilled in children by the parental units are somewhat lacking regarding the educational process...
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