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What's the Big Idea?: Reinventions for a Better America Paperback – May 28, 2012
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About the Author
Marty Nemko holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley specializing in the evaluation of innovative programs and subsequently taught in Berkeley's graduate school. He wrote "The Big Idea" column for WashingtonPost.com and a column for TheAtlantic.com. He is in his 24th year hosting Work with Marty Nemko on KALW-FM, a National Public Radio affiliate in San Francisco. The archive of that program plus 1,000 of his published writings are free on www.martynemko.com.
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What's the Big Idea? Reinventions for a Better America is a thought-provoking and timely book. Creative solutions are packed into this small volume. Readers will surely agree, disagree and be amazed at the outside-of-the-box thinking that went into it. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
On education, I certainly agree that the most important function of an education is to learn to think critically. There are many great education innovations listed. One criticism: the author gives examples of esoteric content that gets in the way of the mission as follows: "But we're too busy teaching the periodic table of elements, the causes of the War of 1812, the intricacies of Shakespeare, and how to solve quadratic equations." I believe that these subjects can be perfectly good ways to apply critical thinking. In learning about Shakespeare, I began to see his work as a way to learn from the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them. He is certainly correct that we should not teach less important content without first covering the essentials.
The author notes the idiocy of airport screening practices. On a trip home from New Orleans, my husband almost had to leave behind a bottle of barbeque sauce. Barbeque sauce. Unopened. How does this make us safer?
Much more importantly, we are asked to consider carefully about how we select our leaders. This reminds me of a recent quote from Nassim Taleb: "It's the first time in history in which the people on top have power without courage. First time. You cannot find that in any society." "And of course the President of the United States was supposed to be first in battle. Not someone pushing a button. " Exactly right.
Suggestions in this book vary from the clearly practical to the very radical. Medical system reform is sorely needed. This seems to be widely agreed upon. In more of a departure from the expected, the author suggests dorm-style living welfare recipients. Since welfare recipients are parents, I can only imagine the challenge of living 24/7with other peoples' children. While dorms may be fine for college students, they are not what I think of as kid-friendly.
Readers are encouraged to replace buying "stuff" with buying of services that hold greater promise of improving their quality of life. I absolutely agree. People can use their free time to take dance classes, improvisation and theater classes, get massages, play basketball, volunteer, refurbish cars or any number of other life-enhancing activities.
I found the author's definition of happiness to be narrow. It is proposed that the pursuit of happiness "trivializes life's meaning." The author seems to be referring to pleasurable activities. The current research on happiness shows that it is in using one's strengths in engaging work that serves a purpose larger than oneself that we find true happiness (Martin Seligman.)
I enthusiastically recommend this book. You may find yourself nodding in agreement or asking what?! I can at least guarantee that this book will stimulate your own critical thinking.
Just a little sampling: he talks about selecting our leaders from the ranks of newly retired CEOs of successful companies, "Cop of the Year", "Teacher of the Year"
, etc. better preparation in our schools for entrepreneurship, what college curriculums should be, practical advice for finding a job, investing, finding a romantic partner using his "Partner Report Card". He even has thought about the advantages of flying cars and a seriously reasoned solution to Middle East conflict by creating a New Israel in upstate New York (sorry, but I can't suppress the vision of changing clothes 4-5 times a day at Grossinger's, circa 1963).
In any case, I respect and appreciate Marty for his original, unorthodox, highly intelligent ideas, and his ability to communicate.
Particularly thought provoking are the chapters on reinventing political elections, taxation, housing, and public libraries.
I hope that more people - everyday citizens and political leaders alike - consider his ideas and contribute to the public discourse.
I gave it 4 stars for 2 reasons:
1. I've seen some of the ideas on his blog previously.
2. While the book is a short one, it's not an easy read. It contains a lot of material that I couldn't easily digest in one read.
That said, all the ideas are different & interesting. I didn't agree with everything (I'm not ready to give up my public libraries just yet, and the selection of a romantic partner seems a bit clinical for my taste) while with others I was totally on board (climate change, treatment of men,the articles on college). Whether I agreed with them or not, I thought all of them were at least worth considering.