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Friday, September 17, 2010

Waking Up America

In Sunday's NY Times, Thomas Friedman confronts the issue of what ails America with such directness, it struck me like a bolt of lightning.  In talking about why many of our systems have failed to thrive (e.g. education), Friedman places the balme squarely on individuals and the resultant collective mentality.  He writes:
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.
In contrast, he talks about the "Greatest Generation" and why they succeeded:
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.”
He adeptly depicts our status quo:
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.
And to tackle our current malaise our national debate must begin 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.

Thomas Friedman is probably one of the better known opinion writers for the NY Times because of his many best-selling books including The Flat Earth (how the internet is changing the world ), Longitudes and Attitudes (the world after 9-11) and The Lexus and the Olive Tree (globalization).  I was fortunate to hear him speak and to meet him in a small forum afterwards.  I have generally found his writing thought provoking but perhaps mildly simplistic and sometime redundant.  However, this Sunday he wrote this column that is clear, direct and thoroughly appropriate not just for education and politics, but for medicine as well-we need far greater honesty from all sides of the debate and then greater cooperation in finding creative solutions to move forward.

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