An ad hominem attack against Thomas Friedman



Thomas Friedman has MOOCs in his sights and that should worry all sides of the debate because Thomas Friedman operates a very large megaphone that helps shape public opinion, and also he is almost always wrong about everything.

Yes, that is an ad hominem attack, a logical fallacy I became acquainted with in one of the classes I took taught by a professor in college. (Or it might have actually been in high school, I’m not sure.) I normally don’t go for ad hominem because as a teacher of writing I strongly believe that what matters are the ideas not the speaker. In this case, I’m making an exception because Thomas Friedman has demonstrated himself to be so wrong, so often, that he should no longer be listened to about anything.

Thomas Friedman has as much credibility on education as I do on dunking a basketball.

There are the big, obvious wrongs on Friedman’s record, like his takes on Iraq both before and after the invasion, or his entire theory of the world being “flat” which was famously demolished on both its substance and style by Matt Taibbi.

His predictions on geo-political events are also almost always off target.

Despite his reputation as a shoe-leather reporter who goes to the source, Friedman’s thinking on issues is almost always outsourced to the experts he chooses to talk to or “trust.” With the Iraq invasion, it was Colin Powell.

If the subject is President Obama’s “Race to the Top” education initiative, he uncritically parrots Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, ignoring the diversity of thought and response to these sorts of centralized government initiatives.

For his new interest in MOOCs, Friedman has written columns based on his interactions with Andrew Ng, the founder of Coursera, Anant Agarwal, the president of edX (Harvard and MIT’s joint project), and now, most recently, Michael Sandel, Friedman’s “old friend” and a “star” professor and the instructor of the first humanities-based course to be released by edX based on his 1,000-person Harvard lecture on “Justice.”

Friedman’s columns on MOOCs read like infomercials, something made only more obvious by the fact that his most recent one is timed to the release of his “old friend” Sandel’s course. It seems as though Friedman has done precisely zero thinking about the impact MOOCs will have on education, or if he has done so, it is not in evidence in his writings on the subject. Friedman\’s bias for big ideas and big solutions to complex problems is well on display.

I don’t really wish to litigate the great MOOC debate. There are people more qualified than me who are causing me to think hard and long about these trends. If Friedman wants to join in the conversation in a meaningful and thoughtful way, more power to him, but he has not previously demonstrated this capability.

I think it’s inevitable that MOOCs have a role to play in making education accessible. I also embrace the potential of technology to provide access to a greater diversity of thinking and give voice to differing opinions.

After all, how else could a nobody NTT teacher and writer have a platform – not The New York Times, but still – from which to say that Thomas Friedman is not a serious thinker or analyst on this issue (or perhaps any issue)?

Friedman should not be listened to on this issue any more than we trust the hosts of Home Shopping Network to tell us the truth about the quality of that all-in-one food processor they\’re peddling.

Shall we tell Thomas Friedman that he should think harder about education?