Monday, February 04, 2008

Friedman, Pink and Stager - Oh My!

At the risk of giving Gary a heart attack, here's an interview of Thomas Friedman by Daniel Pink. It's part of the February issue of The School Administrator, which appears to have several articles relevant to our discussion of A Whole New Mind. I would suggest our students read both the interview and some of the other articles with Gary's criticisms in mind. (For those of you who haven't been following our AWNM project, you may want to read through the comments on this post and this post to see some of Gary's thought-provoking questions for our students - and their responses.)

Embedded below is the 2005 commencement speech by Steve Jobs at Stanford that is referenced in the Pink/Friedman interview. You can also read the text of the speech. He tells "three stories from [his] life" - perhaps one of the reasons Mr. Pink likes it.


  1. Karl,

    First, allow me to thank you and your colleagues for your hospitality. It takes a great deal of courage to invite strangers to participate in a class discussion. I was impressed by the maturity and intellectual clarity of your students, even though I question the assignment of “A Whole New Mind.” Several of your students have written quite thoughtful messages with me.

    I read the new Pink/Friedman article. It’s full of self-serving references to their books and various banalities. Kids should be well educated. Parents should love their children. Creativity is good. How do they come up with such remarkable insights?

    It is however worth noting (based on your blog) that once again Mr. Pink has appropriated someone else's story, that of Mr. Jobs, to support his conclusions. In this case, Pink elevates a commencement address to a level of significance it hardly warrants.

    Once again, I return over and over again to the thesis of my December 2005 review of Friedman ( and my 2007 review of Pink ( Although I believe that both books are stellar examples of cut and paste journalism with overly simplistic conclusions, I reserve the most disappointment for school leaders who look to the authors for advice. I remain mystified as to why these pop business tomes are held in such esteem by educators.

    For those looking for better ways to spend their limited reading time, I have compiled a collection of book recommendations you might find useful -

    All the best,


  2. Thanks Gary, that's high praise indeed. Thank you also for the book references, I was going to ask for those. Do you have a specific book (or books) to recommend that we use next year? Keep in mind that it needs to be approachable/readable/relevant to ninth graders, to fit into the curriculum somehow (we tied AWNM to persuasive essays), and it must be able to be approved by the school board. It also wouldn't hurt if you know the author and can help us convince them to participate! (While you will dislike at least several books on the list, I think you might approve of some of the books we have used in our staff development efforts as we think about how best to educate our students.)

    It's been interesting observing the students through this process. When we first started, I'd guess about 80% "agreed" with Pink and perhaps 20% "disagreed" but most of them were pretty quiet about it. As we progressed through our discussions of the book, and with the help of outside bloggers like yourself as well as discussions with their classmates, now many of the students are looking closer at the ideas of the book and aren't quite as sure. In fact, a few of them have said something similar to, "I don’t know what to think anymore." Which, for me, is perfect. In a few short weeks they have become much more willing to question what they read, to approach ideas from multiple perspectives, and search for their own meaning. It will be interesting to see how they progress through the rest of the project and how they feel at the end. I'm really looking forward to their interactions with Mr. Pink as well as the remaining live bloggers and hope that they continue to seek meaning and relevance for themselves. I would agree, most of them are doing a great job thinking about these ideas.

    My own views on Friedman and Pink? I certainly don't agree with either of them completely, but I do think they have something to offer us. I'm not as concerned as you are that they are not offering us something "new." I think like many before them they have packaged some ideas together in a way that allows others to think about them – I see that as a good thing, as long as we – and our students – look at those ideas critically. I think Pink's six senses from AWNM are definitely worth thinking about – personally and educationally.

    Whether you call it Symphony or omelet or stew, I think the concept of taking seemingly disparate ideas and seeing the connection, of synthesizing a lot of information in a way that allows one to see the big picture, is worth thinking about. The same goes for the other five senses. I think K-12 has systemically ignored many of those senses – or at least relegated them to "elective" courses and then cut much of the funding for those courses. And I think we have also artificially separated the disciplines, treating math, science, language arts, social studies, art, music, etc. as separate entities, carved up into 55 minute blocks of discrete instruction. While I'm all for focus, I would like the focus to be on meaningful, relevant, in-depth study of essential ideas, not isolated, subject-specific standards. So I think that if we can use Pink's book to look more closely at these ideas, and to help our students think more deeply about ideas in general, then it's a very worthwhile endeavor, even if it wouldn't have been your first choice. (Again, if you can get me hooked up with someone like Deborah Meier or Alfie Kohn, I'll see if I can get their books approved for next year.)

    Thanks again for your time and willingness to participate with our students and to push their thinking. We – and they – truly appreciate it.

  3. Hi Karl,

    Uh oh! It's a lot of pressure inspiring you to adopt a new book. :-)

    I need to know a bit more about the course and its objectives before I can recommend the best book candidate.

    That said, I'm a huge fan of the following books for kids and teachers to read about education:

    Frank Smith's "Book of Learning and Forgetting"
    Herbert Kohl's "I Won't Learn from You"
    Alfie Kohn's "The Homework Myth" or "Punished by Rewards" or "The Schools Our Children Deserve."
    Dennis Littky "The Big Picture"
    John Taylor Gatto's "Dumbing Us Down"
    Susan Ohanian's "What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten?" or "Why is Corporate America Bashing Our Public Schools?"
    Seymour Sarason's "What Do YOU Mean by Learning?"
    Eta Kralovek's "Schools that Do Too Much"

    If you want a book about technology and learning, I suggest:

    Seymour Papert's "The Children's Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer"

    Great books about the future:
    Neil Gershenfeld's "Fab" or "When Things Start to Think"
    Nicholas Negroponte's "Being Digital"

    Marvin Minsky's "Society of Mind"

    Richard Florida's books
    Tom Demarco "Slack: The Myth of Total Efficiency"

  4. Oh my! I agree with Gary - something must be wrong with me! Really, his accessment of Pink's and Friedman's books were my impressions also as I read them.
    Well, sometimes I even agree with Dave Cormier....

  5. @Gary - thanks so much. I've read several on that list, but now have more to add to the bedside table.

    In case anyone is interested, as far as our curriculum, here is the Language Arts Curriculum guide. If you go view ninth grade, you can see the requirements. In general, a book has to hit multiple categories to be approved, and of course can't be too "controversial." I'm thinking The Homework Myth is probably not one I'm going to try to get approved by the school board. :-) (Although we did use some of it in our staff development.)

  6. @Durff - agreeing with Gary and Dave? That's dangerous stuff . . . :-)

  7. Mr.Fisch
    I have had many of the same reactions to Pink and Friedman's ideas as you have. I agree that most business books and self help books, even though they may not be presenting anything new, take old ideas and package them in a neat easy-to-read way that make people think about them. The books just recreate ideas that have been forgotten and maybe need to be reconcidered and thought about a little deeper.

    Before I read A Whole New Mind, I never took Asia, Automation, and Abundance into true consideration. I never thought about the change that these present in the world today. I do believe that we are moving into more of a conceptual age (or what ever you want to call it) because many more people are seeking jobs that they enjoy and they are participating in things that give meaning to their lives. I am not saying that people didn't do this before, but before it was not as important to people that they had a job they enjoyed as it is today. Also, since we have so much information provided for us at the touch of a couple buttons, then we must establish meaning behind those facts. That meaning is not given to us through our information source. We have to personalize and analize the information we do recieve and decifer whether or not it is true for us.

    Then in another way, I agree with Mr.Stager when he mentions that both Pink and Friedman have many ideas that are just common sense. Things like Gary said; education is important, children need their parents love, and creativity is a good thing.

    Thanks again Mr.Stager for participating in our discussion, it was very fun having you join in and interject new perspectives and ideas.


  8. @kristinah - Thanks for your thoughts Kristina. As I indicated, I think I'm kind of in the middle. I certainly like the book more than Gary does and I do think it was worth reading - I'm pretty sure he doesn't think that! But I also think he has many valid criticisms of the book. What I like about this project is that it is causing all of us to think more deeply about these issues, and I see that as a good thing. And, while some of it may be "common sense," I don't think it hurts to be reminded of what common sense is - speaking as a parent of a seven year old who's still learning what common sense is, as well as someone who works in an education system that sometimes seems to have forgotten.

  9. Karl,

    I haven’t made time to read Pink’s book, mainly because I am immersed in three books that I'm currently teaching: Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dante’s Inferno, and Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. (Every year, I reread the books I teach my students.) I’m sure it won’t surprise you that my favorite portion of Gary Stager’s 2007 review of Pink’s book was the following:

    The New York Times article, C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success, tells us that most successful business leaders, the people self-help book readers wish to emulate, do not read business books. They read poetry and novels and great non-fiction written by experts. In short, CEO libraries are tributes to a great liberal arts education. Now that is a lesson school leaders should learn.

    I think back to ninth grade and recall vividly much of the fiction and non-fiction I read for English and history that year. Maybe because I was young and impressionable, I absorbed the ideas and imagery from those books into parts of my mind where they still reside. These books helped to define me and my world view. I’m no expert on the the mind, but I know my brain expanded and altered when I read the Bill of Rights, The Declaration of Independence, 1984, Animal Farm, Wuthering Heights, Arrowsmith, Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream,and Oliver Twist. I recall the wonder and love I felt for each of those texts.

    Hooray for Gary Stager! Hooray for the liberal arts!

  10. @Cheryl - Arrowsmith? Aww, man, I haven't read that. As if Gary hadn't given me enough to read . . .

    I'll be interested to hear your reaction if you do find time to read AWNM. I think it makes a pretty strong case for the liberal arts . . .

  11. I know it! And I am in bed with something - paybacks....