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May 3, 2016
by Larry Ferlazzo

David Brooks Does His Best – Again – To Give Social Emotional Learning Skills A Bad Name


My wonderful, and now deceased, first wife used to tell me – endearingly – “How can somebody so smart in so many ways be so dumb in others?”

It’s my turn to ask that same question – minus the endearing tone – to David Brooks, who seems to lose any sense of rationality whenever he writes about education-related issues, as I’ve regularly pointed in this blog.

He seems to have a particular affinity for giving Social Emotional Learning a bad name (see With Friends Like David Brooks, Social Emotional Learning Doesn’t Need Any Enemies and David Brooks Gets It Wrong Again).  In fact, it was one of his columns that inspired me to to call him and others advocates of the “Let Them Eat Character” philosophy in my Washington Post piece, The Manipulation of Social Emotional Learning.

He’s at it again in today’s column, titled The Choice Explosion.

After first making some excellent points about how people can improve their decision-making abilities, he suggests that a class on it should be included in schools. Of course, anyone teaching good Social Emotional Learning skills is already doing that, but I don’t have any problem with him making the suggestion.

Then, however, he says it’s especially important for “less fortunate” students because “the choice explosion has contributed to widening inequality.” On top of that, he justifies it by (mis)using important research (see The Best Articles About The Study Showing Social Emotional Learning Isn’t Enough) on the limiting effect poverty has been shown on “cognitive bandwidth,” while the researchers emphasized their public conclusions on the importance of anti-poverty programs.

Teaching social emotional learning skills must be paired with helping our students see the institutional obstacles they face to success and strategies – individual and collective – they can use to overcome them.

The next time David Brooks wants to write a column in The New York Times about effective strategies to reduce inequality, he might want to start off with reading The Best Resources About Wealth & Income Inequality and The Best Resources On Why Improving Education Is Not THE Answer To Poverty & Inequality.

August 1, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

With Friends Like David Brooks, Social Emotional Learning Doesn’t Need Any Enemies


New York Times columnist David Brooks is at it again, demonstrating the rapidly growing public face of Social Emotional Learning as a “Let Them Eat Character” strategy (which I wrote about in The Washington Post — The manipulation of Social Emotional Learning).

His column today, The Character Factory, quickly dismisses the effectiveness of programs that provide economic assistance to low-income people because “they have produced disappointing results.” Of course, he provides no evidence or details for that critique. Perhaps he should actually talk to a low-income person now-and-then who has benefited from food stamps, rental and home-buyer assistance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicaid, etc. And he doesn’t consider the possibility that those programs might be even more beneficial if they were better funded. This is the kind of critique that comes from someone who has never needed that kind of assistance.

Then, he launches into a paean to the need for poor people to have character — that’s the ticket! They just need a little grit, self-control, models (he calls for a “Boomercorps” of volunteers to provide them), good habits (to his credit, he does throw a bread crumb at “opportunity” by mentioning that it would be important for college to be affordable).

No wonder there is a growing backlash against Social Emotional Learning by those who see it being co opted as a low-cost way by many conservatives to avoid providing adequate economic support to schools and as an excuse to avoid discussion of income and wealth inequity.

I’m a big supporter of teaching Social Emotional Learning skills. In fact, I’m just completing my third book on the subject. But in my teaching and in my writing (even more so in this third book), I recognize that my students have many challenges ahead of them, and that SEL is one small (though important) piece of the puzzle.

Promoting them as the solution to all that ails our students, their families, and our communities is at best naive and at worst horribly manipulative. At it’s very worst, it could also be called neocolonialist or educational colonialism.

As far as I can tell, David Brooks has never written a coherent column on anything related to education.

Oh, well. At least The Times has Paul Krguman…..

January 24, 2014
by Larry Ferlazzo

David Brooks Gets It Wrong Again

'David Brooks at the Miller Center Forum' photo (c) 2011, Miller Center - license:

David Brooks, whose connection to reality magically leaves him just about every time he writes any column with the word “school” in it, did it again today in his latest one.

He begins his column sounding great — about how we’re putting too much weight on school reform to solve the ills facing out young people.

However, he then immediately falls into the trap of saying Social Emotional Learning and training low-income parents to be “average parents” will take care of things.

So forget about wealth inequality and poverty.

He exemplifies the growing danger of some people saying that SEL is the solution, despite the fact that studies show that poverty causes a lack of self-control and perseverance and it’s not the other way around.

He might also want to look at some of the recent research showing that single parents aren’t necessarily the problem he thinks they are….

July 11, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

Quote Of The Day: David Brooks Hits A Home Run On Immigration Reform

I’ve had many issues with what New York Times columnist David Brooks writes about education issues, but he certainly hit a home run today with his column on immigration reform. It’s headlined “Pass The Bill!”

Here’s how he ends it:


I’m adding it to The Best Resources About The New Push For Immigration Reform.

May 27, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Cognitive Dissonance Of David Brooks

New York Times columnist David Brooks, as I’ve written here before on numerous occasions, can be extraordinarily insightful.

However, each and every time he’s written about education issues, it’s amazing how coherence and thoughtfulness just seem to disappear from his consciousness.

His column today, Heroes of Uncertainty, is about psychiatry, not education. In it, he questions whether psychiatrists and their profession should really be viewed primarily as a science:

Psychiatrists are not heroes of science. They are heroes of uncertainty, using improvisation, knowledge and artistry to improve people’s lives.

The field of psychiatry is better in practice than it is in theory. The best psychiatrists are not austerely technical, like the official handbook’s approach; they combine technical expertise with personal knowledge. They are daring adapters, perpetually adjusting in ways more imaginative than scientific rigor.

The best psychiatrists are not coming up with abstract rules that homogenize treatments. They are combining an awareness of common patterns with an acute attention to the specific circumstances of a unique human being.

Brooks’ points all make sense to me. What astounds me, though, is his cognitive dissonance — he relentlessly promotes that schools and teaching should be evaluated through the “science” of standardized testing, and doesn’t seem to recognize that the same thing he is saying about psychiatry can be said about teaching.

I’ve still got to wonder: Why Do So Many Ordinarily Thoughtful Columnists “Lose It” When They Write About Schools?

February 18, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo

David Brooks Proves Once Again He Is Very Insightful About Education When He Isn’t Writing About It

David Brooks, who generally loses all coherence when he writes explicitly about education issues, has just written an eloquent case for the importance of being data-informed, and not data-driven.

Read his column today titled What Data Can’t Do. I’m adding it to The Best Resources Showing Why We Need To Be “Data-Informed” & Not “Data-Driven.”

Here’s an excerpt:

November 27, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo

David Brooks Gives Great Education Advice When He Isn’t Writing About Education

Whenever New York Times columnist David Brooks writes explicitly about education issues, his sense of judgment and coherence appear to completely disappear.

However, sometimes when he writes about non-education issues, he has wise insights that can certainly be applied to the classroom and to education policy discussions. Today is one of those examples.

His column, How People Change, is an excellent critique of the now-famous father who sent an email to his children telling them he was disappointed in them and they shouldn’t contact him until they have a plan to change their behavior.

It’s worth reading his entire column, but here’s how he ends it:

It’s foolhardy to try to persuade people to see the profound errors of their ways in the hope that mental change will lead to behavioral change. Instead, try to change superficial behavior first and hope that, if they act differently, they’ll eventually think differently. Lure people toward success with the promise of admiration instead of trying to punish failure with criticism. Positive rewards are more powerful.

I happen to cover a field — politics — in which people are perpetually bellowing at each other to be better. They’re always issuing the political version of the Crews Missile.

It’s a lousy leadership model. Don’t try to bludgeon bad behavior. Change the underlying context. Change the behavior triggers. Displace bad behavior with different good behavior. Be oblique. Redirect.

November 29, 2011
by Larry Ferlazzo

Sage Life Advice — Via David Brooks?

All sense of proportion and insight leaves New York Times columnist David Brooks whenever he writes about education (and, more recently, Occupy Wall Street).

However, he periodically hits a home run when he tackles other topics. He did so today in his new column, The Life Reports II.

He shares extraordinary life advice he’s gleaned from readers. It’s well worth visiting and sharing….

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