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David Brooks Should Heed His Admonishment for President Trump

As is often the case, David Brooks writes a column in today’s NYTimes that I can find a 95% agreement with only to be maddened by the 5% discrepancy…  Titled “Donald Trump Poisons the World”, Brooks’ op ed piece describes his disgust with the perspective of Mr. Trump’s leadership team and Mr. Trump himself. He opens with two paragraphs that would be good leads for articles in Nation or Truthdig:

This week, two of Donald Trump’s top advisers, H. R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, wrote the following passage in The Wall Street Journal: “The president embarked on his first foreign trip with a cleareyed outlook that the world is not a ‘global community’ but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.”

That sentence is the epitome of the Trump project. It asserts that selfishness is the sole driver of human affairs. It grows out of a worldview that life is a competitive struggle for gain. It implies that cooperative communities are hypocritical covers for the selfish jockeying underneath.

He then goes on to take Mr. Trump to task for holding a “…core worldview that life is nakedly a selfish struggle for money and dominance” and boldly asserts that “…this philosophy is based on an error about human beings and it leads to self-destructive behavior in all cases“. He then writes:

Of course people are driven by selfish motivations — for individual status, wealth and power. But they are also motivated by another set of drives — for solidarity, love and moral fulfillment — that are equally and sometimes more powerful.

As a retired public school administrator I was heartened to read Mr. Brooks’ assessment of humanity! While acknowledging that “…people are driven by selfish motivations — for individual status, wealth and power” he also realizes they are “…also motivated by another set of drives — for solidarity, love and moral fulfillment — that are equally and sometimes more powerful.”

This refreshing perspective on humanity makes me wonder why folks like Mr. Brooks want to impose business principles on public education. Businesses, after all, are driven by the profit motive. The operate on the assumption that people seek “status, wealth and power” and assign no value to abstract ideals like “solidarity, love and moral fulfillment” that do not add to the bottom line. Indeed, when politicians who advocate business principles for public education “measure” how well schools are performing they don’t even try to determine how well teachers are doing in terms of developing “soft skills” in children, they only care about test scores… which serve as a convenient mathematical proxy for “profit”.

Here’s some news for conservatives like Mr. Brooks who want to “reform” the public schools by applying business principles: Those of us who work in the public education are not driven by the profit motive that is prized in business. We want to make the world a better place for the children we educate… a world that values clean air and water, peace, and cooperation. Those, alas, do not show up on the balance sheet of corporations.

As Mr. Brooks examines other public policy issues, I urge him to heed his admonishment for Mr. Trump and appreciate that not everything in humanity is driven by greed and profit.

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