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That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back Kindle Edition
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
A reader might ask why two people who have devoted their careers to writing about foreign affairs—one of us as a foreign correspondent and columnist at The New York Times and the other as a professor of American foreign policy at The Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies—have collaborated on a book about the American condition today. The answer is simple. We have been friends for more than twenty years, and in that time hardly a week has gone by without our discussing some aspect of international relations and American foreign policy. But in the last couple of years, we started to notice some- thing: Every conversation would begin with foreign policy but end with domestic policy—what was happening, or not happening, in the United States. Try as we might to redirect them, the conversations kept coming back to America and our seeming inability today to rise to our greatest challenges.
This situation, of course, has enormous foreign policy implications. America plays a huge and, more often than not, constructive role in the world today. But that role depends on the country’s social, political, and economic health. And America today is not healthy—economically or politically. This book is our effort to explain how we got into that state and how we get out of it.
We beg the reader’s indulgence with one style issue. At times, we include stories, anecdotes, and interviews that involve only one of us. To make clear who is involved, we must, in effect, quote ourselves: “As Tom recalled . . .” “As Michael wrote . . .” You can’t simply say “I said” or “I saw” when you have a co-authored book with a lot of reporting in it.
Readers familiar with our work know us mainly as authors and commentators, but we are also both, well, Americans. That is important, because that identity drives the book as much as our policy interests do. So here are just a few words of introduction from each of us—not as experts but as citizens.
In 1971, the year I graduated from high school, Time magazine had a cover featuring then Minnesota governor Wendell Anderson holding up a fish he had just caught, under the headline “The Good Life in Minnesota.” It was all about “the state that works.” When the senators from your childhood were the Democrats Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, and Eugene McCarthy, your congressmen were the moderate Republicans Clark MacGregor and Bill Frenzel, and the leading corporations in your state—Dayton’s, Target, General Mills, and 3M—were pioneers in corporate social responsibility and believed that it was part of their mission to help build things like the Tyrone Guthrie Theater, you wound up with a deep conviction that politics really can work and that there is a viable political center in American life.
I attended public school with the same group of kids from K through 12. In those days in Minnesota, private schools were for kids in trouble. Private school was pretty much unheard of for middle-class St. Louis Park kids, and pretty much everyone was middle-class. My mom en- listed in the U.S. Navy in World War II, and my parents actually bought our home thanks to the loan she got through the GI Bill. My dad, who never went to college, was vice president of a company that sold ball bearings. My wife, Ann Friedman, was born in Marshalltown, Iowa, and was raised in Des Moines. To this day, my best friends are still those kids I grew up with in St. Louis Park, and I still carry around a mental image—no doubt idealized—of Minnesota that anchors and informs a lot of my political choices. No matter where I go—London, Beirut, Jerusalem, Washington, Beijing, or Bangalore—I’m always looking to rediscover that land of ten thousand lakes where politics actually worked to make people’s lives better, not pull them apart. That used to be us. In fact, it used to be my neighborhood.
Although Berkeley has a reputation for political radicalism, during my childhood in the 1950s it had more in common with Tom’s Minneapolis than with the Berkeley the world has come to know. It was more a slice of Middle America than a hotbed of revolution. As amazing as it may seem today, for part of my boyhood it had a Republican mayor and was represented by a Republican congressman.
One episode from those years is particularly relevant to this book. It occurred in the wake of the Soviet Union’s 1957 launching of Sputnik, the first Earth-orbiting satellite. The event was a shock to the United States, and the shock waves reached Garfield Junior High School (since renamed after Martin Luther King Jr.), where I was in seventh grade. The entire student body was summoned to an assembly at which the principal solemnly informed us that in the future we all would have to study harder, and that mathematics and science would be crucial.
Given my parents’ commitment to education, I did not need to be told that school and studying were important. But I was impressed by the gravity of the moment. I understood that the United States faced a national challenge and that everyone would have to contribute to meeting it. I did not doubt that America, and Americans, would meet it. There is no going back to the 1950s, and there are many reasons to be glad that that is so, but the kind of seriousness the country was capable of then is just as necessary now.
We now live and work in the nation’s capital, where we have seen first- hand the government’s failure to come to terms with the major challenges the country faces. But although this book’s perspective on the present is gloomy, its hopes and expectations for the future are high. We know that America can meet its challenges. After all, that’s the America where we grew up.
Bethesda, Maryland, June 2011
- Publication Date : September 5, 2011
- Publisher : Farrar, Straus and Giroux (September 5, 2011)
- ASIN : B0050IET72
- File Size : 1246 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print Length : 436 pages
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Language: : English
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #295,501 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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Top reviews from the United States
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The most important component of the authors ‘solution is education. The US can put itself back on the top, or vie for the top by teaching students to think critically and use technology (and keep learning the new technology as it is invented). This will propel the US back to being the leader in the world economy.
As a former High School physics teacher I concur with most of what the authors but not with the authors’ solution to improving education. First, the authors assume schools are failing based on several standards including international test scores. My school had an exchange with one of our administrators and the head of the Shanghai school system. The Shanghai administrator, who spent a week at our school, told our faculty that while the US had a representative sample of all schools take the international test while China only allowed students from Shanghai, their best school district, to take the test. Not surprisingly the Chinese students came in first. There are other apples-and-oranges in international testing that call into question the validity of the test comparisons. Based on that the Shanghai administrator told us that we (a suburban school) should not put much stock in the test results because he saw firsthand that we were doing an excellent job.
Second, not all schools are equal, even among public schools. Suburban schools have distinct advantages over urban schools (more money; more stable families; parents with more education, affecting the aspirations of their children) and rural schools (size matters; a full time physics teacher can devote more time to a subject than a teacher who has to teach physics, chemistry, and earth science). This does not mean that all suburban teachers are better than urban or rural ones are, but by and large the various factors add up to advantages for suburban schools.
Finally, the authors want to make teachers better by incentivizing them with some bonuses, being resigned to the fact that we won’t pay teachers commensurate with their role in society. They believe that teachers will teach regardless of low pay because the want to teach. In the real world money matters, real money not just smaller bonuses for a few. School districts who can offer higher pay have a larger pool of candidates from which they hire. In addition, many who would like to teach and may make very good teachers choose not become educators because of the student debt they have accrued. When society wants to give the teaching profession more respect, including better salaries, teaching will improve because more good candidates will choose teaching. When schools can afford to offer teachers more preparation time the teachers will become more affective. Also, when schools can afford to have a longer school year and pay teachers for working 220 days like in some countries (instead of 180 in the US) education will improve.
It is a good read. I would encourage reading "That Used to be Us" and "The Myth of America's Decline: Politics, Economics, and a Half Century of False Prophecies" by Joseph Joffe as a counter. Joffe argues that the US will not fall off the planet because the US has been in this position before and has been able to adapt and move forward. The two books together can give the reader a more balanced approach to reality.
UPDATE ON MY REVIEW: My copy is missing 16 pages! They are pages 323 through 338 in the Teach for America section. I was so disappointed -- the book was apparently bound without these pages and I'm not sure who to contact. Anyone else have this issue?
In order to achieve the above, their are four areas that we must improve upon as a world power. The authors discuss these areas and suggest what needs to be done. And they are able to draw upon the influence of other nations upon these same areas needing improvement. We can no longer stand alone or preach isolationism as done many decades ago. All nations, friendly and unfriendly are connected at the hip. We are interdependent upon one another whether we desire it or not. The internet and world wide economic-political influences are the glue that bind us together or draws us apart..
This book has a fresh appeal since the influence of Mandelbaum has added creditability to the over all work. I highly recommend that you read this book and let its message influence your vote in 2016. We all have the responsibility to become informed and vote intelligently. So now is the time to prepare.
Top reviews from other countries
However the solutions to the current, real-world problems that 'That used to be us' suggests has are not getting done and everyday seem to further away from politians minds. As they explain, America has a vital role to play in the modern world but if they continue on the present path the whole world suffers. Argueing about exactly where the president was born, a mostly pointless exercise in Afganistan and illegal immigrant arguements, while the rest of the world (especially Asia) improves its education, infrastructure, and development is suicide.
As a European living and working in Asia, i found this book about and for Americans personally scary.
got bored within 100 pages.
It's a good book, but so much has happened in the past 4 years since this book was written that it all feels a bit dated.
The book is good, the premise of the book is still true, but not a book with a long shelf life.