Thursday, February 6, 2014

Book Review: Newt Gingrich, Breakout.

America, the greatest nation on earth and greatest hope for the future of the world, also has monumental problems big enough to threaten its greatest nation status and knock her from the pedestal of being the hope of the future if they are not solved.  Poverty, a gigantic inefficient bureaucratic government, an ineffective and costly educational system, 15 trillion in national debt with cities and states facing bankruptcy, 2.3 million criminals in prison-the highest rate of any developed country, the break down of the family, rising costs of healthcare, decaying infrastructure, transportation gridlock, and dependency on fossil fuels are perhaps the Top Ten among the biggest of America’s problems.

Former speaker of the House of Representatives and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich tackles many of these issues in a new book, Breakout.  The core thesis of the book is that amazing technological advances and creative thinking are producing potential solutions to these problems.  However, there exists in every one of these fields what Gingrich calls “the prison guards of the past” who through one means or another hinder these advances that have so much potential to move America forward.  America is poised for breakouts in many areas but special interest groups, fear, greed, complacency, and other motivations are holding her back.

Chapters begin with a discussion of amazing developments in a specific field such as education and the potential those developments portend.  This is followed with example upon example of how the prison guards have or are checking the potential.  Nevertheless, Gingrich's enthusiastic optimism and his vision of America’s future fueled by these innovations permeates the book.  Each chapter is punctuated with ideas and suggestions of how creativity, ingenuity, innovation, and technology may address America’s problems.

Two chapters which especially interested me are those about education and health.  A brief look into  some of the ideas in the one on education may serve to give readers an idea of Gingrich’s approach.  (I’ll say more about health in a future blog.)  In the chapter on education he doesn’t spend a great deal of time discussing America’s woes regarding education.  Perhaps he feels the issue is understood well enough without much elaboration. He does say, however, that “We are on the edge of a dramatic transformation from bureaucratic education to individualized learning.” (p. 26) This is largely through technologies of communication, information and learning that are rapidly evolving and made available primarily through the Internet.  The problem is that despite this virtual revolution in transmitting knowledge, schools and universities have been especially slow to accept the change and advance the transformation.  

But hope is out there.  Gingrich highlights the now well-known Khan Academy.  Salman Khan has produced thousands of short video clips which teach mathematics from elementary to graduate school level math and 100s of thousands of students worldwide are using them to learn math.  The concept can be applied to nearly every conceivable subject matter.  For Gingrich two important benefits derive from this approach–it is free and can be virtually universal.  

Not surprisingly, however, there is a counter attack from traditional teachers.  Without going into the detail in the book, the telling point for me is that those opposing the Khan Academy are content to point out its flaws, but show no understanding of and exhibit no enthusiasm for its potential, therefore they offer no encouragement to create a better version.  

The chapter also discusses the efforts of others to make high quality education at the university level available online either free or at significantly reduced cost.

The book is a call for politicians, interest groups, scientists, educators, and citizens to encourage innovation and put pressure on various bodies holding progress back so that America may enjoy significant breakouts in the areas of her greatest problems.  Whatever one may think of Gingrich and his politics, it is difficult to deny that he is one of America’s foremost creative thinkers relative to addressing her problems with new ideas and potential solutions.  He is both a thinker and an activist.  If there are comparable creative and innovative thinkers on the left who have offered as many suggestions as are contained in this book I am not aware of them.  If you are, please bring them to my attention.  I am interested in reading more. 

See: Newt Gingrich, Breakout: Pioneers of the Future, Prison Guards of the Past, and the Epic Battle That Will Decide America’s Fate.  Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2013.

Let's think together again, soon.

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