March Selection: The New School by Glenn Harlan Reynolds

At our March 2014 meeting we will discuss Neil’s selection:

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself, published by Encounter Books, 2014


About Ron Boothe

I am a Professor Emeritus at Emory University, currently living in Tacoma Washington USA.
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11 Responses to March Selection: The New School by Glenn Harlan Reynolds

  1. Neil Bergeson says:

    Hi all,

    I had coffee with some of you this morning, as I try to do every Friday morning at Bluebeard. While I was somewhat preoccupied with other stuff today, I did manage to blurt out something about how I liked the book I chose for the March discussion because the author, Glenn Reynolds, didn’t seem to have an ax to grind, as do many who write books or articles on education reform or on how technology is somehow going to solve many of the ills of the current system. Afterwards, I began to wonder how I arrived at that conclusion. What evidence, if any, did I have that supported that statement? So I spent some time this afternoon searching for other writings of his or interviews connected to his interest in the current state of higher and ‘lower’ education, looking for clues that might clarify the issue. Three examples of what I found are listed below. When you get a moment or two, take a look at these and see what your conclusions might be regarding Mr. Reynolds’ ax. (The third item is an eight minute TV interview.)

    Perhaps some of you have found other sources that you could share with us all.


    • Ron Powers says:

      Hello to all,

      Since I won’t be able to “attend” the meeting tomorrow to discuss with you my impressions of The New School by Glenn Reynolds, I’d like to share a few comments with you that were stimulated by Neil’s e-mail, “The ax of Mr. Glenn Reynolds” in which Neil says that he believes that Mr. Reynolds doesn’t have “an ax to grind” about educational reform.

      I couldn’t disagree more with my esteemed book club colleague!

      Before I get to the book, let me comment on the three links Neil attached to his e-mail below. The first is an interview with Glenn Reynolds from Atlantic, a magazine Reynolds has contributed to in the past. Needless to say, this magazine isn’t going to cast aspersions against one of their own. But look at this quote from Reynolds in the the article:

      “With industrial organization, you tend to get industrial ideology and people who are comfortable with that. So, you know, factories organized for mass production and you got workers who found their tasks sort of boring, they were sort of alienated from the final result of their work, and they started getting this sort of union worker mindset, where the end product was the least important part of the job. And I think you see the same thing especially in K-12 education. That was organized on a pretty explicitly industrial model, and it was organized actually, as I say in the book, by Horace Mann, very much with an intent to imbue an industrial model in the students, and the teachers I think just go along with that. And I think with that comes a certain set of beliefs: sort of progressivism, leftism – they’re all sort of various flavors of Marxism, and Marxism is a 19th century industrial ideology that sort of goes along well with that. In higher education it’s a little different, but it’s the same sort of thing. I do think the structure of higher education – I mean the amusing thing is so many professors have a Marxist take, but higher education is really sort of more feudal in organization.”

      Okay. Let’s analyze this comment:

      1. Americans who worked in factories during the Industrial Revolution (You remember the good old days! Seven days of work, twelve hour work days, and very low pay!) got alienated so they developed a “union worker mindset.” Can you believe these ingrates? They tried to unionize to improve their working conditions!
      2. Guess what? So did those radical teachers in the K-12 schools!
      3. You know what happens next: “progressivism, leftism…Marxism”!
      4. And you know what else? Many professors now have a “Marxist take” on living in their “feudal” organizations.
      5. Before you know it, communism has invaded the American schools!

      The second link is to a review of Reynold’s book in a web magazine called TheBlaze. This magazine, according to Wikipedia, “(formerly titled GBTV) is a libertarian conservative/independent news, information, and entertainment television founded by talk radio personality and entrepreneue Glenn Beck.” I don’t know about all of you, but I don’t go to Glenn Beck, or his media empire, to look for explanations of or interepretations of anything in print. No criticisms of Reynolds there.

      The third link is to, a division of Clarity Media Group, which was created by Philip Anschutz, a Wyoming oil tycoon who has branched out his oil money into real estate investments and stocks to increase his wealth. Again, from Wikipedia, I found this description: “He [Anschutz] has been an active patron of a number of religious and conservative causes.” Oops. No hidden agenda here in anything Anschutz is involved in, is there?

      Before I researched these articles, I was convinced after reading just a few pages of this month’s selection that Mr. Glenn Reynolds has a huge ax to grind. His ax is conservative politics, with a huge social agenda. What proof? As the theme song to “Love Story” goes, “Where do I begin…?”

      The beginning of The New School is a pathetic, cursory, superficial explanation of how we progressed from the “caveman era” to today, all in a few pages. In seconds we get to the Industrial Revolution, and to changes in American education because “society needed educated workers.” Education was based on an “industrial model.” There’s no mention of the need for an educated populace to help build a republic. Education is needed to create “obedient factory workers, orderly citizens, and loyal soldiers.” That Reynolds quote almost brought a tear to my eye. Sniff.

      Who does Reynolds go to for his research? Well, Stanford’s Hoover Institute. Stanford sounds good, intellectual, deep. It’s the Hoover reference that should raise your concerns. How is this institute described on the internet? As a “conservative policy analysis group at Stanford University.”

      By the way, on a local note, when Washington Territory became Washington State in 1889, there was a state constitution written. Here’s What Article IX, Education says: “Section 1 Preamble. It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provisions for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.”

      That sounds pretty idealistic to me: “paramount duty of the state.” Nothing codified about trying to educate children for business, to make them ready for a work force, to make them “obedient factory workers.”

      Every state constitution says that it is that state’s “paramount” or “fundamental duty” to educate children. How did that get left out of Reynolds’ book?

      Besides the conservative Hoover Institute, who does Reynolds quote? Why none other than Herbert Stein, at the start of the chapter “Higher Education”: “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.” (Choked up?) And who is Herbert Stein? Well, he was the Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who wrote for the Wall Street Journal [another sign, if you’re looking for them] and was the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Richard Nixon and President Gerald Ford.

      Rather than go on, let me just summarize a number of points that Reynolds makes that truly reveal his big, conservative political ax:

      1. Lower wages for teachers will be a good thing in the future.
      2. What happened to the teachers in Wisconsin under Governor Walker was good politics and will be copied by other states.
      3. Unions, for teachers, are a bad thing.
      4. Working for diversity on college campuses takes too much time and money.
      5. The Obama “bail out” in 2009 was a bad thing for America (almost every economist disagrees with that point of view today)
      6. Reynolds hopes for a resurgence of the “slacker culture” because those slackers won’t take up space in schools.
      7. Schools suck from the “government teat” (but of course big business doesn’t, the military doesn’t, and certainly not lawyers).
      8. During the Industrial Revolution, “older workers didn’t want to compete with low-priced child labor, while the Victorian era’s more-sentimentalized attitudes toward children made the idea of factory work by kids seem barbaric.” That’s a direct quote. He just said those squeamish Victorians felt too sorry for children. Working seven days a week, twelve hours a day, like they did, seemed “barbaric” to them. Don’t you know that hard work is good for children!
      9. “Powerful [teacher] unions…make many changes more difficult. In the 1930’s,…” That was the exact transition from that union sentence. Reynolds is crafty in trying to intimate that American educational labor problems began in the 1930’s with teacher unions. That is a complete hoax. The NEA, created in 1857, didn’t gain significant membership in America until the 1950’s, and the NEA never believed in strikes until after an increase in membership of the competing, more militant American Federation of Teachers threatened NEA’s existence in the 1970’s.
      10. “There are a lot of people who benefit from keeping teens infantilized.” Reynolds is of course inferring that teachers/administrators want to keep students “infants” far too long. What’s with these child labor laws, anyway? Think of what cheap child labor could do for the American economy?

      The icing on the cake, for me, was Reynolds quoting Margaret Thatcher to make a point, citing Ronald Reagan for his work on improving American Education, and then this quote: “Homeschooled David Karp recently sold Tumblr to Yahoo for a billion dollars.”

      I’m sparing you countless other examples of Reynolds conservative political views that proved to me that his isn’t a voice we need to heed in trying to find solutions to problems–and there are many of them–in today’s American schools and colleges.

      Reynolds does make a good point about the astronomical college debt in America (total college debt just surpassed the total of all American consumer debt last year). In saying that Reynolds made a good point, I’m reminded of a quote by the entertaining dean of American Conservatism, William Buckley, who once said, “Even a broken clock is right twice a day.”

      See you on Skype.

      Tucson Ron

  2. Ron Boothe says:

    Obviously this is a hot topic right now. Just in the last couple days I have noticed several newspaper articles relating to the problem of increasing student loan debt.. Here are a couple links:

  3. Mohsen Mirghanbari says:

    To all who were present at Neil’s book discussion last Tuesday, I came across the attach article referring to higher eduction and if “college education is for everyone” while I found the article informative and easy to read, however I couldn’t help noticing the advertisements constantly flashing before my eyes.
    Notice the page one picture with an underlined anti military comment, yet the advertisements included military professions, online education, pharmaceuticals, and energy drinks, I suppose one needs some sort of education to understand those drinks may not be good for you.

  4. Neil Bergeson says:

    I came across this the other day and thought it might be of interest. When we discuss problems with our current educational system, real or imagined, it seems we need to take into consideration the relative attitudes, skills and knowledge of those whom Sheninger calls ‘digital learners’ and those of the rest of us who are on the outside looking in. If there are widespread differences between learners and the decision makers responsible for the delivery of their learning (as is suggested here), how do we go about the business of curriculum selection, assessment of progress and evaluation of educational staff?

    “Digital learners prefer to access information quickly from multiple-media sources, but many educators prefer slow and controlled release of information from limited sources.

    Digital learners prefer parallel processing and multi-tasking, but many educators prefer linear processing and single tasks or limited multitasking.

    Digital learners prefer random access to hyper-linked multimedia information, but many educators prefer to provide information linearly, logically, and sequentially.

    Digital learners prefer to learn “just in time,” but many educators prefer to teach “just in case.”

    Digital learners prefer instant gratification and immediate rewards, but many educators prefer deferred gratification and delayed rewards.

    Digital learners prefer to network simultaneously with others, but many educators prefer students to work independently before they network and interact.

    Digital learners prefer processing pictures, sounds, color, and video before text, but many educators prefer to provide text before picture, sound, and video.

    Digital learners prefer learning that is relevant, active, instantly useful, and fun, but many educators feel compelled to teach memorization of the content in the curriculum guide.”

    Sheninger, Eric C. (2014-01-14). Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times (Kindle Locations 647-657). SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.

    I also found myself identifying with the right side of each sentence than the left much more often than I liked.


    • David Gilmour says:

      Dear All,
      In any age that is transitional, as ours is, there has to be room for both styles to be exploited or employed in teaching. Unless one can replace in a short time the teachers whose psychic or neurological configuration still has its seat in the cheirographic or book text pattern of written expression, whose knowledge comes from considering tradition, the connected current, then things have to be changed in time, a partial generational time. When the term “disruption” comes up it often means a period of chaotic adjustment to the brand new electronic program. What we are talking about in the wishes of the digital learners for something quick, look-upable, and probably fairly short in explanation. Where’s the depth in satisfying curiosity, where is the retention of the tradition, the long current of information over time that led to the instant answer or overly concise explication? The use of book text, or continuous hypertext/scrolled text which isn’t much different from a traditional page in which a number of ideas are developed over several paragraphs, is what people don’t have patience with nowadays. Tweet your answer to me, please! Digital learners at some point have to graduate to the long story, the full equation of the formula. How does the mind adjust from the instant answer from somebody else’s Quikipedia to having to think something through. The one most serious question about digital learning is when does the personal, individual thinking develop as a process? Through
      curiosity and introspection, such as occurs with reading at some length,
      this is an encounter with the interior self. The digital
      question-Google-answer is more like a gobble of information, a consumption of a given. Sure, the screen will win, already has, but the lessons of the book in guiding the active mind through the confusing knowledge maze has not been transferred to the electronic formats at this time. Maryanne Wolf’s book Proust and the Squid is still one that gives me pause about a swift transition to the next thing through merely buying the radical disruption.

      Classrooms the world over are already inhabited with the disinherited,
      whether from poverty or inadequate preparation for What Comes next. We
      might not think the turning of the world to the new electronic mores is
      torpid, but when I think how little help comes from twelve bright people
      to set up a laptop so we can have a quorum of visual-oral-aural
      participants, I say there’s torpor at work, disinterest to join what’s
      next. I’m on the outside and the world has never been open to outsiders.

      Here’s what Rainer Maria Rilke had to say (From Wolf’s text): “Each torpid turn of the world has such disinherited children to who neither what’s been nor what is to come, belongs, for what comes next is too large and remote for humankind.” Can’t people understand that transitional ages are confused, hung between what’s been and what’s coming? It happened in the arrival of literacy out of an oral communicative world, hundreds of years–no, thousands–with only a small percentage able to manage literacy, and,by god, we still don’t have a fully literate world of the old literacy, and only a partial one of the new electronic literacies. Rushing into digital learning as though the mind’s development isn’t that important is a dangerous impulse. As I mentioned to Neil, people haven’t been taught how to make the choices: “our ability to make profound choices [with electronic brains and memory banks] must be honed with a rigor
      rarely practiced by learners in past generations.” It’s not the personal “good” that one must aim for, but a progression through preparation that require singular capacities for attention and decision making incorporating a desire for the common good. So long as teachers have reading brains which will undergo an adaption to the next generation of changes, the working out of this must be made with careful deliberation of the best minds in education, not letting the mercenary digital corporations compel everyone to accept their choices of machine. I would recommend the Ravitch book Richard brought up (Reiogn of Error) and Wolf’s powerful inquiry into the transition from reading to electronic learning in “Proust and the Squid.” –David

    • Neil Bergeson says:

      Every age is a transitional age. Digital learning is a process not an end. There’s no reason that one tweet followed by another and another can’t lead to an in-depth learning conclusion. They aren’t somehow destined to simulate a flat rock skimming across a pond. The challenge of teaching today will be first to understand the world of the present day learner and to help them understand how the digital world can facilitate their appreciation of all that has come before. Nothing needs to be lost. It’s all still there, waiting to be found. But expecting them to find it the same way we did will only bring us frustration and pain.

    • David Gilmour says:

      “Paradigm Shifts” are a little more than just a transition that occurs in
      every age. A bit facile to say it happens all the time. Yes, something
      will be lost–deep reading for one. Already I sense inability of young
      people to “hold forth,” to express an argument fully, to be face-to-face
      communicators. The speech and tonal rhetoric I hear on the radio,
      especially NPR, has changed to a style much different from times past. Of
      course, language changes and vernaculars go through alterations. All
      things are in flux and something will be lost. “Movies are much more
      important in teaching things,” so I heard a writer say, “than books these
      days.” Ask the teachers in the trenches, especially those in humanities
      dealing with the new core requirements, what has been dropping down the
      cracks. As Dylan says in his song: “Something is happening here / and you
      don’t know what is, / do you, Mr. Jones?” Perhaps others should chip in
      on this. How for the better will the process change? –David

    • Neil Bergeson says:

      I’m sure your observations are shared by nearly everyone, including me. My stating that every age is a transitional age came off a bit too flip and probably needs to be dialed back a bit or ignored altogether. But technology is here to stay. How can anyone deny that? While its use in schools and in the wider society seems shallow and appears to separate people socially, it doesn’t have to stay that way, and probably won’t. But schools and families and people like you and I will need to support efforts to help change that. It’s like any new innovation, we go through stages of development in its use and different levels of attitude about whatever we think it is. Right now most of us are at the lower rungs of those ladders and it will take time to move higher. But, ultimately, that will happen. The question you raise (“How for the better will the process change?”) is, in my opinion, exactly the right one. I don’t have any answers but I read about folks out there that are wrestling with that exact issue and they believe they are making headway. Unfortunately, implementation of the common core standards, connecting standardized testing to teacher evaluations, top down dictates from politicians and financial moguls, and a general lack of trust within the teaching ranks are muddling up the workplace. I suspect real and positive changes will come from those ‘in the
      trenches’ and their supporters, and that those changes will take a long time. Maybe, though, change will occur in the 100th monkey style. That would be nice. I might even be around long enough to see it.

    • David Gilmour says:

      As I said, the screen has won, it’s with us perpetually as here I am screening at you. I think Visit From the Goon Squad, Bill’s May selection, will bring up some of the issues we’ve discussed. The futuristic sections are fascinating. Have you T’d anyone today? T’wd b nyc. Having finished that Goon Squad work in my spare eternity alone in Idaho, I had trouble finding the quotable quotes that Ron Powers is so acute at finding. I go, gee, where is the hard stuff here, and the page goes back (and it goes
      forward too) like what kind of music did the Conduits put out. Can’t imagine! Any clue? Past is past, what was Punk? when it comes right down to the moshe pit of reality? I have a DVD of the Sex Pistols I’ve yet to watch, the only documentary in
      existence of their career. I imagine I’ll see the young Scotty Hauser in there somewhere, floating over the crowd with his guitar wailing. –David

    • Burk Ketcham says:

      I never was a teacher but both of my sons teach in colleges (one on line courses) and one daughter in law is a high school teacher. In fact she was named teacher of the year in Massachusetts two years ago. What disturbs me is that most of the noise is from those who only can think of the bottom line like Governor Walker of Wisconsin and never had to face a class day after day. If I were a young college student today I would have serious misgivings about becoming a public school teacher. Who needs that kind of abuse.

      I am the product of a public school education as are my two sons and their wives. All of us got a good foundation there. I get upset by all this talk about technology. It is as if the tail is wagging the educational dog. I grant that technology can help, as you have pointed out, in the educational process. Education in my book is all about learning how to think. If it is just about learning which buttons to push on the computer then it is not worth much. But if pushing those buttons on the computer helps in the thinking process then it is just another useful tool which should be embraced.

      I look back and think that a lot of my education came from going into the stacks and thumbing through a bunch of books on the subject that interested me. Often that would lead me up new avenues and the books I took home would open new directions for my thinking. I must admit that I miss the old card catalogs where you could thumb through the cards as I did in the stacks. It is interesting that all those techies in Silicon Valley are there because of the interaction with others who are working their brains and the interaction with others, in person and not virtually, doing the same is a plus for their thinking process. That in my book is just a continuation of the intellectual stimulation one got from the random interaction (teacher pus students) of the classroom or exploring the card catalog, pulling books off the shelves at random, or a bull session with other students over a beer in college.

      Well, like the others who never taught a class, I had added my two cents worth. I have a friend who pulled her son out of the Mason School in the North End of Tacoma because he was bullied for being too smart. He is now at Charles Wright Academy where his brains are valued. There is something wrong with our society when the kids from the best educated neighborhood in Tacoma have a low value of the ability of a fellow student’s ability to think outside of the box.


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