• Just Visiting

    A blog by John Warner, author of the story collection Tough Day for the Army, and a novel, The Funny Man, on teaching, writing and never knowing when you’re going to be asked to leave.


Make Up Your Mind, Thomas Friedman

America's foremost op-ed columnist needs to decide what we're supposed to do and stick with it.

April 20, 2014

Sometimes I think Thomas Friedman was put on the Earth in order to teach me the wisdom and necessity of the serenity prayer.

His Sunday column, “How to Get a Job at Google, Part 2,” centers around an interview with Laszlo Bock, the person in charge of all hiring at Google. Friedman’s implied argument is that if you can get a job at Google, the most profitable, dynamic, and demanding company, you can get a job anywhere.

According to Bock, what Google looks for above all other traits is someone who takes the opportunity of a college experience by being “explicit and willful in making the decisions about what you want to get out of this investment in your education.”

Google wants graduates who choose the difficult B over the easy A[1] (grit demonstrators), as well as those who have “general cognitive ability – the ability to learn things and solve problems.”

They also value creativity, though Bock believes we’re born creative, it’s the logical thinking skills we need to develop. The liberal arts get positively name-checked because “holistic thinkers” are necessary to balance the “deep functional experts.”

And ultimately, the key to formulating these experiences into a good resume is to show you how to stand out from the crowd, in Bock's words, “Frame your strengths as ‘I accomplished X, relative to Y, by doing Z.[2]’”

Friedman finishes the column by saying, “For parents, new grads and those too long out of work, I hope some of this helps.”

So, according to Bock and Friedman, the best way to succeed in the current economy is to challenge oneself intellectually and creatively and show differentiation from the herd.

This is why Thomas Friedman is a consistent critic of educational movements such as MOOCs or the Common Core State Standards, because the standardization of education threatens the ability of students to meet these goals, and indeed, they threaten the very soul of what makes our country great, American individualism.

Wait, what’s that? You’re saying that Thomas Friedman is a cheerleader for MOOCs and the CCSS? You’re telling me that he thinks that MOOCs are a “revolution” where the best and brightest super-professors  can remotely teach us all?

I’m confused. What are people supposed to do? Should we be herding students into homogenized online courses and preparing our students to do well on a battery of standardized tests, or should we be developing independent thinkers and problem solvers?

The answer to this conundrum is in understanding Friedman’s implicit championing and perpetuation of class divisions. To Friedman, there are literally, two Americas.

For the first America, the ones who will be able to compete for jobs at Google, or perhaps something even more selective, like a bi-weekly slot in the New York Times op-ed section, we need to be developing those abilities that make us unique.

Thomas Friedman’s unique ability is to careen from issue to issue without a shred of intellectual consistency or coherence. It takes a special mind to be able to perform so flexibly[3].

For the second America, the leftovers if you will, our job is to consume things produced by the first America.

Friedman is excited by Common Core because, as reported by Patrick O’Donnell of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, following a Friedman presentation at the Education Writers Association National Seminar, “having multiple states using the same standards will allow programmers to write materials that serve a broader audience instead of the fractured one now.”

So, to Friedman, the CCSS is a good thing because companies can get to work writing software. Three cheers for productivity and "innovation." Never mind what that software is good for, or what interacting with the software might do for or to the students. This is less important than the fact that it is a market opportunity for the first America. Forget that the CCSS-educated generation will never be able to get jobs at Google unless Google changes their guidelines to embrace employees highly skilled at working with canned curriculum.

In Friedman’s America, jobs at Google are going to be the exclusive province of first America, the children whose parents can send them to private schools that wouldn’t and won’t touch CCSS driven curriculum primarily created by private testing corporations.

Sinecures at the New York Times are for the special. MOOCs are for the masses who will hopefully read those columns and nod along and think that if they could just put these magic prescriptions into action, they too could grasp the brass ring.

Guess which America Friedman probably thinks you belong to[4]?

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…


It's sort of fun to mock Friedman on Twitter. Lots of people do it.


[1] English literature being the example of a less rigorous course of study than computer science.

[2] For example, Thomas Friedman’s resume might say something like: “I’ve forged a lucrative writing and speaking career where I get paid 50x the salary of a lowly Inside Higher Ed blogger by spewing B.S. in the service of carrying water for the entrenched and powerful while making it sound vaguely like progressive thinking.”

[3] If Friedman wasn’t such a dopey thinker, he would’ve realized that he’d already “kicked over the Common Core sandcastle” with his first column about “How to Get a Job at Google.”

[4] I can’t find another spot to put this little tidbit, but I also must note that Friedman’s column, just as in the first installment of this series, carries a “Mountain View, Calif” byline, indicating that Friedman felt the need to conduct the discussions in person, rather than using email, Skype, or a phone. I wonder what it is that Friedman feels he achieved being able to meet face to face with Laszlo Bock that couldn’t have been achieved via some other technology.



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