In the fall, I’m teaching Friedman’s book to graduate students in a course titled "Computers and the Study of English," which I’m co-teaching with my colleague, Karen Stearns. I’m going to go through it and discuss some of the issues I think I’ll address in my class.
The first chapter does a decent job of using anecdotes to describe the conditions of globalization Friedman sees as flattening the world. The first and primary task I have in using this book is to convince these students, who are preparing to be high school teachers, of the significant changes that they and their future students will be facing. I want them to consider how their professions will change with the changing demands for education they will see.
There’s one line I wanted to remark on in the first chapter. Friedman is inteviewing Xia Deren, the mayor of Dalian, a Chinese city at the heart of this flattening process. Xia remarks about the over 200,000 college students in his city (he’s a former college president), saying those who choose to study history or literature "are still being directed to spend a year studying Japanese or English, plus computer science, so they will be employable."
Perhaps this is good advice for our own liberal arts students? Learn Japanese or Chinese. Study computer technology. So you’ll be employable. Maybe, but the advice is also perhaps a decade late. India is graduating 2.5 million students a year; China graduates even more. Our graduates are competing with them now… Well not exactly competing. If the job can be done in India or China, it’s highly unlikely it can be done for a living wage in the U.S. So my students have to get out ahead of the curve somehow, without the benefits many students who attend elite colleges might enjoy.
Certainly a big part of their getting ahead will be getting a high school education that moves them forward. I’m hoping this book will get our future teachers thinking about how they will face this challenge.