In a “hyperconnected” world, public schools need to make Garrison Keillor’s whimsical idealization of America become reality, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman told the opening General Session of NSBA’s 74th Annual Conference Saturday. “All the children need to be above average.”
Being ordinary in any endeavor is no guarantee of being able to thrive, or even survive, in today’s economy, he said.
“Woody Allen’s line about 80 percent of life being about showing up? Not anymore,” he added.
“Every middle class job is being pulled in three directions at once,” Friedman explained:
* Up, as employers expect workers to update and improve their skills.
* Out, as jobs are threatened by outsourcing and replacement by robots and expert systems.
* Down, as jobs are being made obsolete faster.
Speaking without notes, the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner argued that the ability of anyone to make a living in the 21st century will depend in large part on being self-motivated and “innovation ready.”
That’s because no human endeavor is untouched by a “Gutenberg-level change” that is occurring amid the “flattening” of the world through the simultaneous effects of globalization, the Internet, and information technology.
He said that includes his job as a journalist, which often takes him to China. His goal used to be to find a morsel of information that would be interesting for a reader like his mom in Minnesota. But since 2011 The New York Times has had a Chinese-language edition, so “I have to tell my Chinese readers something new about China.”
For educators and school leaders, this means new challenges in preparing students for the globalized, hyperconnected world. “We had to find jobs; they will have to invent them.”
What to tell kids?
“I have five basic pieces of advice:
1. “Think like an immigrant.” Take nothing for granted; be a “paranoid optimist” in every endeavor.
2. “Think like an artisan.” Contribute something unique and be proud of it.
3. “Always be in beta.” Like makers of software, consider nothing finished. Always be working on a better version of your products and yourself.
4. “Think like a parent.” Realize the Internet is partly a sewer with misinformation, bias, hate, and pornography. That means modeling good judgment, because that’s the only way kids can learn it.
5. “Be like a waitress at Perkins Pancake House” by exploiting what you control to maximize customer satisfaction. Friedman said he came up with this suggestion after a waitress delivered a plate of pancakes and said, “I gave you extra fruit,” which prompted Friedman and a companion to leave a 50 percent tip. People who give others a little extra will get ahead.