Friday, August 11, 2006

Donald Schon on Educating the Reflective Practitioner.

We are in the midst of, in our cyclical American way, we are in the midst of a new wave of school reform, and as usual we are blaming the schools for issues that properly belong to the society as a whole. Japanese imports and competitiveness have replaced references to Sputnik and Russian competition of the late ‘50s. The buzzwords, some of them, are old; some of them-- "excellence," "accountability," are new. There are some counter-voices that speak to the fact that teachers are badly paid and under-respected and inappropriately blamed. But underneath the debate about the schools, as it cycles through our history, certain fundamental questions keep coming up: "What are the competences that teachers should be trying to help students, kids acquire?" "What kinds of knowledge and what sort of know-how should teachers have in order to do their jobs well?" What kinds of education are most likely to help teachers prepare for effective teaching?" We may be ready to re-examine questions like these and, as we do so, it may be comforting to notice that we’re not alone among the professions. In fact, if I’m right, all of the professions, even Nathan Glazer’s major professions, are currently in the midst of a crisis of confidence which has to do with a rather fundamental issues, namely our view of the nature of professional knowledge, our view of what I call "the epistemology of practice." In this talk I want to talk about a version of that epistemology of practice which I am going to call "school knowledge," and I’m going to contrast it with the kind of artistry that good teachers in their everyday work often display, which I’ll call "reflection-in-action." I do want to point out that these ideas of mine are very much part of a tradition; in fact, I think you can really look back at the history of the schools and of educational reform and see a dialectic between a school establishment, on the one hand, and I’m talking over centuries, from Rousseau onward, and a tradition of reform and criticism which begins with Rousseau and goes on to Pestilotsy and Tolstoy and Dewey and then, as we approach more contemporary times, Alfred Schultz and Lev Vygotsky and Kurt Lewin, Piaget, Wittgenstein and David Hawkins today. So I see myself not as saying anything really new at all, but as drawing on this tradition and talking on how we might put it to use.

Let me begin with this business of school knowledge and reflection-in-action. I want to take an example from "The Teacher Project," which was a project initiated in 1978 by Jean Bamberger, who is here, and Eleanor Duckworth. And it was a project of in-service teacher education. The teachers were chosen from elementary schools in Cambridge; they attended seminars once a week. The vignette I want to pick is one in which these seven teachers are sitting watching a videotape. And on the videotape they’re seeing two boys playing with pattern blocks--you know what pattern blocks are? And there’s an opaque wall between them. One boy has a pattern in front of him; the other boy has a bunch of blocks. And the first boy, looking at his pattern, is trying to give the second boy directions for completing the pattern. And the teachers are watching this videotape. And the first boy gives a series of directions, and pretty soon it’s clear that the second boy begins to go horribly awry, and his pattern gets more and more divergent from the ones that the teachers can see in front of the first boy. And the teachers begin to talk about what’s going on. And they say the second boy is clearly a slow learner, and he doesn’t know how to follow directions. And he seems to lack basic skills. And in the midst of that, Maggie Cauley who was assisting Jean and Eleanor, and who was watching, said, "Wait a second: I think the first boy gave an impossible instruction." And they went back and played the tape again, and they saw that indeed the first boy had said, "Put down a green square," and there were no green squares, there were only orange squares, and the only green things were triangles. And then the teachers began to see the whole tape in a completely different way. And they perceived that the second boy was, in fact, a virtuoso at following instructions, a virtuoso at improvising instructions. And they said, "You know what we did was we gave the kid reason." And that notion of giving the kid reason became a slogan for much of their work thereafter in the seminar.

This idea of "giving reason" is associated with a view of kids’ knowledge, a view of kids’ learning, and a view of kids’ teaching, which is very different to what I take to be the prevailing view of those things in the schools and, I might add, in the schools of education. And I want to use the term "school knowledge" to talk about what I take the prevailing view of knowledge to be which is built into the schools. I think we can correctly call it an "epistemology of the schools." It’s keyed to predictability and control which are essential features of ALL bureaucracies. It is also keyed to a certain view of educational reform and is, I think, centrally associated with why it is that educational reform fails to reform. Because the centre-periphery model of reform through large scale government intervention, for example, also demands the packaging of knowledge and the presentation of replicable methods which are to be stamped in through rewards and punishments which mirrors the view of knowledge built into the epistemology of the schools. The features of school knowledge that I want to point to are these.

First of all, there’s the view that what we know is a product. There is a body of knowledge. It is a set of results which are, at best, the results of research carried out in the universities. It’s knowledge that is determinate in the sense that there are right answers: questions have right answers. It’s the business of the teachers to know what the right answers are and to communicate them to students. The knowledge is formal and categorical; it is explicitly formulable in propositions that assign properties to objects or express in verbal or symbolic terms the relations of objects and properties to one another. And let me tell you a story: the Russian cognitive psychologist, Vygotsky, who worked just after the Russian Revolution, worked with peasants, some of whom had been to the collective schools and some of whom had not. And he gave them little tests. And the basic pattern of the test was "Put together the things that go together." So he showed this peasant a hammer, a saw, a hatchet and a log of wood, and he said, "Put together the things that go together." And the peasant said, "Well, clearly, what goes together is the log of wood and the hatchet and the saw because you use the hatchet and the saw to cut the wood for firewood." And Vygotsky said--and this was his regular strategem--"I have a friend who says that the saw, the hammer and the hatchet go together because they are tools." And the peasant answered, "Then your friend must have a lot of firewood!"

The categorization of knowledge in terms of a category like "tool," as distinct from the ordinary, familiar coherences of objects as they go together in our everyday life, is what I mean by the formal categorical character of knowledge. And it is one of the key features that separates schools from life. The ways in which things are grouped together, the way in which things are treated as similar and different, are not the way in which they are grouped and treated as similar and different in our ordinary life experiences. There is also, in this view of school knowledge, the notion that the more general and the more theoretical the knowledge, the higher it is. I remember once being quite recently at a school of education, and a graduate student was in a seminar that I was doing, and she was working with nurses, and she said something I thought was interesting. And I asked her if she would give me an example. And she then gave me a proposition which was just as general as the first proposition. So I asked again for an example, and she gave me a proposition which was just slightly less general. And I asked again, and I finally got an example. And I asked her afterwards if she thought it was strange that it took three or four tries to get an example, and she said she DID think it was strange, and she didn’t understand why she’d done that. And I think it is because she had been socialized to an institution where, tacitly and automatically, we believe that the only thing that really counts and the only thing that’s really of value is theory, and the higher and the more abstract and the more general the theory, the higher the status it is. Under such conditions it’s very difficult to give more or less concrete examples.

This view of school knowledge also includes the notion that knowledge is molecular, that it is built up of pieces which are basic units of information or basic units of skill which can be assembled together in complexes of more advanced and complicated information. And there IS the notion that it is the business of the teacher to communicate this knowledge, and it is the business of the students to receive it or absorb it. It is the business of kids to get it, and of the teachers to see that they get it. And if the kids do not get it, then there’s a need to explain why they’re not getting it, and categories like "slow learner," "poor motivation," "short attention span," are ways of describing what Clifford Geertz has called "junk categories" to remove their not getting it from the range of things with which the teacher would have to deal.

In contrast to school knowledge, there’s the kind of knowing-in-action which the second boy displayed when he responded to the first boy’s directions, and there’s the kind of reflection-in-action as he improvised when the directions began to leave him puzzled. This reflection-in-action is tacit and spontaneous and often delivered without taking thought, and is not a particularly intellectual activity. And yet it involves making new sense of surprises, turning thought back on itself to think in new ways about phenomena and about how we think about those phenomena. And examples lie in ordinary conversation, making things, fixing things, riding bicycles, and I’m now going to give you my venerable example, and I’ll apologize to anybody here who’s heard it before. Probably most of you have.

If you are riding a bicycle, and you begin to fall to the left, then in order not to fall you must turn your wheel to the ___? Quick! I’m about to fall!

How many think ‘right'?
How many think ‘left’?
How many don’t know?
How many think this is an irrelevant question?
All right, without being dogmatic, if you turn the wheel to the right you’ll likely fall off; if you turn the wheel to the left you’ll likely not fall off because you’ll be turning into the fall. It has to do with where your centre of gravity is. You’re going to bring the bicycle underneath it. It also has to do with the fact that the bicycle is a gyroscope. However, I don’t want you to take this on authority. I want you to go out and test.

And those of you who said, "You turn to the right," I presume you frequently fall off the bicycle. No, you don’t? So it raises the question of how it is that you could give the wrong answer and do the right thing. And this capacity to do the right thing, as my old friend Ray Hayner used to say, "knowing more than we can say, thank God," exhibiting the more that we know in what we do by the way in which we do it, is what I mean by knowing-in-action. And this capacity to respond to surprise through improvisation on the spot is what I mean by reflection-in-action. When a teacher turns her attention to giving kids reason to listening what they say, then teaching itself becomes a form of reflection-in action, and I think this formulation helps to describe what it is that constitutes teaching artistry. It involves getting in touch with what kids are actually saying and doing; it involves allowing yourself to be surprised by that, and allowing yourself to be surprised, I think, is appropriate, because you must permit yourself to be surprised, being puzzled by what you get and responding to the puzzle through an on-the-spot experiment that you make, that responds to what the kid says or does. It involves meeting the kid in the sense of meeting his or her understanding of what’s going on, and helping the kid co-ordinate the everyday knowing-in-action that he brings to the school with the privileged knowledge that he finds in the school. And on this view teaching becomes very much like what Lev Nikolayevitch Tolstoy described in his famous essay on the rudiments of reading, "Teaching the Rudiments of Reading," which he wrote in connection with the peasants’ school he founded at Yasnaya Polanya in between the writing of "The Cossacks" and "War and Peace." He said, "Every individual must, in order to acquire the art of reading in the shortest possible time, be taught quite apart from any other, and therefore there must be a separate method for each. That which forms an insuperable difficulty to one does not in the least keep back another, and vice versa. One pupil has a good memory, and it is easier for him to memorize the symbols than to comprehend the most rational sound method. Another has a fine instinct and he grasps the law of word combination by reading whole words at a time. The best teacher will be who he has at his tongue’s end the explanation of what it is that is bothering the pupil."

These explanations give the teacher the knowledge of the greatest possible number of methods, the ability of inventing new methods and, above all, not a blind adherence to ONE method but the conviction that all methods are one-sided, and that the best method would be the one that would answer best to all the possible difficulties incurred by a pupil. That is, not a method, but an art and a talent. And this is teaching in the form of reflection-in-action. It involves a surprise, a response to surprise by thought turning back on itself, thinking what we’re doing as we do it, setting the problem of the situation anew, conducting an action experiment on the spot by which we seek to solve the new problems we’ve set, an experiment in which we test both our new way of seeing the situation, and also try to change that situation for the better. And reflection-in-action need not be an intellectual or verbalized activity. If you think about--my favourite example of reflection-in-action is jazz, because if you think about people playing jazz within a framework of beat and rhythm and melody that is understood, one person plays and another person responds, and responds on the spot to the way he hears the tune, making it different to correspond to the difference he hears, improvisation in that sense is a form of reflection-in-action. And so is good conversation which must be neither wholly predictable nor wholly unpredictable. If it’s wholly predictable, it’s boring and not good, and if it’s wholly unpredictable, it’s crazy. Good conversation, which all of us have some gift for, involves a moving between those extremes in a kind of on-line observation and action which is so natural and spontaneous to us that we don’t even think about the capacity we have to do it. And in much of this activity we need not think about what we are doing in explicit, verbal or symbolic terms, but sometimes we must. For example, when we get stuck. Or, for example, when we want to teach somebody else to do what we know how to do. I don’t know about your experience as teachers, but mine is--the thing I find hardest in the world to do is to teach a student what I know how to do best. For example, to see interesting patterns in data, which I know how to do, I cannot teach my students to do, or I have to work very hard, or I ask myself, "What is it that I’m really doing when I do this?" And I find I’m asking myself a surprising question: I don’t know the answer to it. In order to get the answer I have to actually think about what I do, and observe myself doing it. My theories about it don’t work very well.

Reflection-ON-reflection-in action IS an intellectual business, and it DOES require verbalization and symbolization. And when the teachers talked about giving the kid reason, they were doing a bit of reflection on reflection-in-action. And when Tolstoy wrote his paragraph, he was reflecting on the reflection-in-action that he was displaying in his school at Yasnaya Polanya.

Now, if we ask the question, "What hangs on this difference between school knowledge and reflection-in-action?", I think it is in fact a revolutionary difference, and it has to do with healing certain splits that deaden the experience of school. They are splits between school and life which make many kids--perhaps most kids--believe that school has nothing to do with life. They are splits between teaching and doing which makes it true for most of us who are teachers that what we teach is not what we do, and what we do is not what we teach. They are splits between research and practice, which means that the thing we call ‘research’ is divorced from, and even divergent from, the actual practice in which we engage. Now all of these things are associated with the argument I made in The Reflective Practitioner [1983], not about teacher education specifically but about ALL professional education in the modern research university. And let me just recapitulate that.

There I argued that the modern research university, as Alfred Schultz has shown us, was derived from the doctrine of positivism as it had affected the German universities at the end of the 19th century, incorporated into the modern research university initially at Johns Hopkins, migrating out from there to other places like Michigan and Columbia, and eventually to the Ivy League. It was based upon the view, then revolutionary, that the university’s business is to produce new knowledge, preferably scientific, certainly systematic. And then there was the issue of what to do with practice, and the initial intent was to keep the professions out of the schools, well out of the schools. Thorstein Veblen, when he wrote The Order of Higher Learning in America, was actually angry at the University of Chicago because it was entertaining the idea of admitting a business school. And he argued that if you admit a business school, or indeed any professional school to the higher school of learning, you’ll simply embarrass the poor fellows, and they’ll put on a specious appearance of scholarship, and they’ll be unable to produce the real thing. And that the lower schools of the profession should be kept out of the higher school of the university.

Well, Veblen lost his battle, and the business school got into the University of Chicago, and then these other professionals also got their schools in and, eventually, police, and library science and so on. And Harold Wohlenski wrote an article in the ‘50s saying, "The professionalization of everything? The professionalization of every one."

But the price for getting in was a buying into this Veblenian bargain which was from the higher schools, their knowledge--from the lower schools, their problems. And the professions, as a ticket of admission to the university, had to agree to the epistemology built into the university, and to construe professional knowledge as the application of research. And so from this comes the notion of the normative professional curriculum, which Edgar Schein has pointed out in his book on professional education: First teach them the relevant basic science, then teach them the relevant applied science, then give them a practicum in which to practice applying that science to the problems of everyday life. And it also produced the institutional separation of research and practice because, if your model of research is that of scientific method in the laboratory sense, with its experimental controls, practice is a confounding environment in which to experiment. You can’t establish controls in that sense, nor can you provide analysis of statistic correlations in the sense that you can do in your study when you have access to the data.

And so the separation of research and practice. And the consequence of this is, I believe, that if you find yourself in university, you find yourself in an institution built around an epistemology--technical rationality--which construes professional knowledge to consist in the application of science to the adjustment of means to ends, which leaves no room for artistry and no room for the kind of competence that the second boy displayed in my example of giving the kids reason, or that a reflective teacher displays when she responds to the puzzling things that kids say and do in the classroom. No room for these indeterminate zones of practice--uncertainty, situations of confusion and messiness where you don’t know what the problem is. No room for problem-setting which cannot be a technical problem because it’s required in order to solve a technical problem. No room for the unique case which doesn’t fit the books. No room for the conflicted case where the ends and values in what you’re doing are conflicted with one another. And so you can’t see the problem as one of adjusting means to ends because the ends conflict.

These indeterminate zones of practice are ones that are becoming increasingly important, increasingly visible to us, and I believe they have a great deal to do with declining confidence in the professions on the part of the public. There’s also no room for the ordinary art by which people apply theory when it IS applicable to concrete situations of action. An old colleague of mine at MIT, Ted Martin, used to say--he was a teacher of calculus--"I can teach kids how to differentiate only I can’t teach them how to set up the problem." In order to differentiate, they have to be able to set up the problem, but setting up the problem is something for which there aren’t rules and no theory. On the contrary, you have to be able to set up the problem in order to apply the rules AND the theory. The challenge to the professional schools, I think, is this challenge of educating for artistry. Helping people become more competent in the indeterminate zones of practice, at carrying out processes of reflection-in-action, and reflection ON reflection-in-action. And helping them to coordinate that artistry with applied science, because I’m not arguing that applied science should be thrown out the window. I’m arguing that it has a special zone of relevance which depends on our ability to do these other things, on the one hand to set problems in ways that the categories of applied science can fix and fit and, on the other hand, to fill with art the gap between theory and technique and concrete action.

I think the source of insight and of invention in thinking about the reforms of professional education are not so much to be found in the professional schools but in certain deviant traditions of education for reflection-in-action. Education for artistry in athletics--coaching in athletics--apprenticeships in the industry and the arts--and especially education for the arts in the studios of painting and sculpture and architectural design, and in the conservatories of music and dance. And here what we find at hits best is what I would like to call a "reflective practicum." And its main features are these. It’s a situation in which people learn by doing, and I hope the ghost of John Dewey is circling just over my head. In which they do this together, with one another, who are trying to do the same thing. Where they learn by doing in a practicum which is really a virtual world. A virtual world in the sense that it represents the world of practice, but is not the world of practice. A virtual world in the sense that, in that world, students can run experiments cheaply and without great danger. They don’t have to actually go out and build a building to learn about designing a building. And they don’t have to go out and kill a patient to learn what the carotid artery is. And they can actually go back and do it again, and they can control the pace of the doing. And within these virtual worlds there are certain crucial media which they must also learn how to use. And they learn by doing with others in the virtual world of the practicum in interaction with someone who is in the role of coach, more like a coach than like a teacher, because that coach is trying to help them do something. And in a kind of dialogue with that coach where the dialogue consists not only in words but in doing, in performance, so the coach’s demonstrations and the students’ performances are messages which they send to one another. The student’s performance, for example, indicating, telling the coach, "This is what I make of what you have said. This thing that I’m doing now is what I make of what you have said." And the coach, observing that and seeing the problems, the difficulties that the student has. At its best this dialogue between coach and student becomes a dialogue of reciprocal reflection-in-action where each of them is reflecting on, and responding to, the message received from the other. And in a moment I’ll give an example.

This idea of reflective practicum is a very general idea, and I think it takes very different forms in different fields and the cultures of different professions in the economic constraints offered by different professions. And what I’d like to look at now is what it would mean to have one for teachers. What would it mean to educate teachers in the capacity to teach reflectively and to think about their own reflection-in-action with kids. And here again I want to draw on the teacher project which Jean Bamburger and Eleanor Duckworth devised and ran for several years in Cambridge. And I want to choose another vignette. This was an event that occurred in the early sessions of the project, and Jean Bamburger was working with the teachers with Montessori bells. And Montessori bells are bells which look the same but they produce different pitches. And there was a collection of bells on the table, and the teachers had been building, "Twinkle, twinkle, little star" out of these bells. And each bell played a different pitch except for two pitches, G and C, of which there were two bells. And after the teachers had practiced doing that themselves, there was a videotape of a 14-year-old boy, Ricky, who was trying to build "Twinkle, twinkle, little star." And the way he did it was something like this. He would strike the first bell, and many bells, until he found one that he liked--’bom’--he called that ‘twinkle, twink." Then he would reach for the others: ‘bom, bom, bom, bom, bom, bom’--find the other one and put it right next to it. Then he’d reach for the next one, and he’d go back to the beginning: ‘bom, bom, bom, bom, bom, bom, bom.’ Then he would go back to the beginning again, and then search: ‘bom, bom, bom, bom, bom-bom.’ The teachers watched this, and they zoned in very quickly on the fact that Ricky kept starting from the beginning again. And Jean, who was observing it, and observing their reaction, said this was a puzzle, and the rest of that session was devoted to working on that puzzle. And the teachers gave a set of responses to begin with. They said that what Ricky was doing was exhibiting ‘rote learning.’ They took it to indicate a lack of mastery of the tune, and they felt that he lacked basic music skills. They thought it was a sign of poor auditory memory, perhaps, and seemed to show an inability to follow directions, and the need for a ‘security blanket’--these were different phrases. And one of them said, "It’s like learning your ABCs. Until you know your ABCs you have to say them all at once. But if you really know them you can recognize an A anywhere or an M. You don’t have to go through the whole thing all over from the beginning in order to get it." So that they were seeing, or some of them were, basic musical skills as the ability to produce and recognize an element, a pitch, no matter where it appeared. As one of them said, the same eight notes in "Twinkle" must be mastered so that they can be recognized in ALL songs. And they believed these were the basics, the primary skills, that Ricky lacked.

Now Jean, who understood Ricky starting over in a very different way, played a very short portion of the tape again just at the point where he began, so she played, "Twinkle, twinkle, little star," and stopped, and asked the teachers to sing the next note. And none of them could do it. And they were shocked. And she asked, "Does that tell you anything about tunes, about why he needed to start over again?" And one of the teachers said, "When Kitty and I did this last week, we certainly went back and played the whole thing from the beginning. I was humming it in my head; I think I used that as the way I found the next note." But another said, "If you’d asked ME to play the second phrase, I doubt I’d have gone all the way back to the beginning." And after some further discussion, Mary, one of the teachers, said, "You know, you’re looking for intervals; it’s the relationship between the tones that counts, not the actual tone or where it appears in the octave or anywhere else, but it’s the relationship between it and the one next to it and the one before it." And then later she said, "So in other words, all this discussion about weakness and learning mode and everything is basically down the drain, because what you’ve said is that nobody could do it any other way, right?" And still later she said, "I realized, when you were talking about that, that music is about building. Without building, you can’t have the fourth block without the first. I realized that repetition in music must be necessary because you can’t build--well, it’s like a tower, and so I visualize it with kids in the kindergarten with blocks. But it came out only because of the probing. I think you were pulling teeth, pulling it out of us."

Now, in my view, what the teachers were getting in this session was moving back between Ricky’s thinking and their own, and they came to see both his thinking and their own in a new way. They came to see that, starting over from the beginning as a way of orienting yourself in the tune is something that everybody has to do. Jean, when she stopped the tape and asked them to sing "How" was carrying out an on-the-spot experiment which she had not planned ahead of time but invented in order to respond to what she saw as their false theory of what was going on. They began by being faced with a kind of diabolical inconsistency. If Ricky lacked basic skills, they lacked them too. And so they had to see starting over in a new way, and they constructed for themselves an image which allowed them to hang on to that new way, which was Mary’s tower. And that image became a name, like giving kids reason, which they could hold.

Now, in my experience in teaching, naming is extraordinarily important--the ability to give a name, not take a name or accept it from someone else, but give a name. And I find that my students, one of the hardest things for them to do, is to be willing to give their own name to the phenomenon which they have seen. It’s as though they believe that if any thought goes through my head it must be automatically wrong, which was the opposite of Marshall McLuhan who used to believe that if a thought ran through his head it was automatically true. Forgive me, Marshall; you were great, anyway.

But the teachers were at that point trying to import their received school knowledge into the interpretation of Ricky’s behaviour. The experiment that Jean carried out helped them to see that what they were doing was not what they were teaching; what they were doing was different to the way they were interpreting Ricky’s behaviour. And she produced what I would call a "hall of mirrors." And I think the reflective practicum in teaching, as in certain other fields like managing and consulting, must be a hall of mirrors because the teacher of the teacher is also doing the thing that she is teaching. And so the kids--the teachers saw their own confusion in the kids’ confusion; they saw their own competence in the kids’ competence, and in Jean’s reflective teaching, her on-the-spot experiment that she produced for them, she was doing for them what she also hoped they would come to learn to do. But at the first instance they were not appreciative. In fact they were extremely angry, and they called the experience a "trial by fire." They said it was devastating; they said it made them profoundly uneasy. In the break after that session, nobody would talk to her.

My experience in other kinds of reflective practicums such as the design studio in architecture is that the phenomena of confusion and mystery and anger are endemic at the beginning. And everybody feels confused. And people keep on asking, "What are we really doing?" In architecture it takes the form of asking, "What is designing, really?" "What are we supposed to be doing?" What does it mean to be thinking architecturally?" And I even had one student who said he was going to leave the studio and go out and work and try to find out what it was they were arguing about. And another student who said, "It’s a sort of Kafkaesque thing. At the crit, at the end of the term, you listen to the inflections and the tone of the voice of your critic to see if anything is really wrong." And this experience, I think, goes to a paradox which is at the heart of learning any new, any really new skill which is at the heart of learning a kind of artistry when you cannot in principle know what it is you’re supposed to be learning, and yet you must learn it. And nobody described this paradox better than Plato in his dialogue, "The Meno." And you remember, in that dialogue, Socrates is talking to Meno, who is the Socratic fall guy for that one. And Meno pretends to know what virtue is. And Socrates quickly shows him that he hasn’t the faintest idea what virtue is, and Meno becomes absolutely furious, and he finally bursts out with this: "But how will you look for something when you don’t in the least know what it is? How on earth are you going to set up something you don’t know as the object of your search? To put it another way, how will you know that what you have found is the thing you didn’t know?"

I like to tweak my friends in artificial intelligence with the notion that the Meno will be around long after artificial intelligences are forgotten! The experience of the students in the architectural studio, like the experience of the teachers in the teacher project and, I believe, the experience of the students in any reflective practicum is that they must plunge into the doing, and try to educate themselves before they know what it is they’re trying to learn. The teachers cannot tell them. The teachers can say things to them but they cannot understand what’s meant at that point. The way at which they come to be able to understand what’s meant is by plunging into the doing--the designing, the teaching, the examination of their own learning--so as to have the kinds of experience from which they may then be able to make some sense of what it is that’s being said. But that plunge is full of loss because, if you’ve taken that plunge yourself, you know the experience. You feel vulnerable; you feel you don’t know what you’re doing; you feel out of control; you feel incompetent; you feel that you’ve lost confidence. And that is the environment in which you swim around, trying to design or trying to teach or trying to do whatever the hell it is you’re trying to learn to do until you get to the place where you can understand what people are saying to you. And you become angry and you become defensive. Or defensiveness, at any rate, becomes a very present danger--"a clear and present danger." And what’s extraordinary is that, for the same students in this design studio, for example, after six months or a year, they were understanding perfectly well what was being said. They could complete their teachers’ sentences; they could speak elliptically, using shortcuts that were mysterious to ME, but they understood what they were talking about. So many of them, not all, teachers and students, coach and students, had achieved a kind of convergence of meaning which came after the pervasive confusion and mystery after the early part of the process. And in between the two comes the dialogue--what I will call a dialogue--between coach and student which is a dialogue of words and a dialogue of actions like the dialogue of "Twinkle, twinkle little star," and Mary’s tower--a dialogue in which, when it works well, student and teacher, coach and student, are communicating through demonstration and description combined, responding to one another’s performances as indicators of what they understand and what they present to be understood. And the coach’s task is a threefold task, I think.

It requires always substantive attention to the specific problem that’s being worked on: the design of this school; the presentation of this videotape. The coach has to be able to demonstrate and describe in relevant ways about that.
Moreover, he has to be able to describe and demonstrate in ways that are particularized, as Tolstoy said, to the difficulties and possibilities of THIS particular student at this time, to say the things, to discover the things, that will allow THAT student to understand.
And thirdly, to do it by building a relationship in which defensiveness is minimized. He can’t guarantee it, of course, because if a person chooses to become defensive, in the end there’s nothing you can do about it. But the things that I do influence the possibilities for defensiveness for others.
And in the coaching process I argue these three problems--the substantive problem-solving, the particularizing of description and demonstration, the reduction of defensiveness--are happening all the time together in combination. And a really good coach is one whose artistry involves being able to do those three things in combination.

Now, the introduction of a reflective practicum into a professional school is an uphill business. The introduction of reflective teaching into a primary or secondary school is an uphill business. If you think about introducing a reflective practicum into a school of education you must work against the view that practice is a second-class activity, because in the school of education I think it is.

You must work against the view that theory is a privileged form of knowledge.
You must work against the doctrine that teachers are to be taught the results of research carried out by researchers, which I think helps to account for a widespread sense of the irrelevance of courses in schools of education.
You work uphill against the notion that the teacher is a blank slate who needs to be trained and has nothing to bring.
And you work against what I am describing as the ‘squeeze play’ currently operating in the profession as in many professions where, on the one hand, the actual institutional conditions of practice restrict what it is that a practitioner can do--how many degrees of freedom. If Michigan passes a competency testing law for teachers, and bases that law on prevailing views of school knowledge, it doesn’t make it easier for a teacher to engage in reflective teaching. And if at the same time there is a resurgence of technical rationality in the university, which there is, the combination of those two things squeezes what I’m calling for.
But on the other side of the ledger there is this, I think--I mean, you’ll tell me in a moment--a general uneasiness about the schools of education, a general uneasiness as though, you know, "We may not be doing it right; we may need to think again." There is a nucleus of people who are already engaged in the business of trying to help teachers become reflective teachers. I know many of them myself, and I don’t know the field very well, so there must be many more. There are many others who WANT to move in this direction, and the current, cyclical iteration of the educational reform provides a window, an opportunity, to move in this direction. Against it there is the Balkanization of the schools--the division into pieces that don’t talk to one another. The little camouflage of this Balkanization with the surface cordiality of academic institutions which drives me nuts, as it may you, and the normal cynicism of the schools which leads people to believe that of course it’s all unchangeable--"too bad, but unchangeable." And yet I think there’s plenty of evidence that it IS changeable, and there are people who I think are wanting to change it in the direction such as the one that I’ve been trying to describe today. I think the ways IN to the development of a reflective practicum could come through internships for teachers. It could come in very interesting ways through the introduction of the computer, not that the computer’s so wonderful but the computer provides an opportunity for looking at education in new ways. And Jean Bamburger’s recent work on what she calls "the laboratory for making things" is an example. And in my own work at MIT, looking at Project Athena there, which is to do with computers in education, I see other examples. Continuing education for teachers provides yet a third kind of example, and work like Gaalen Erickson’s at the University of British Columbia or Tom Russell’s and Hugh Munby’s at Queen’s, are cases in point. But all this depends on there being at the heart of the school a core of people, at least a small group of people, who are prepared to create a new kind of research presence, who want to produce experiences and knowledge which is usable by teachers. I think that's the crucial feature--that their research would be usable. That it would be engaged collaboratively with teachers, that it would be conducted on line in experience with teachers, and that it would be aimed at healing the splits between teaching and doing, school and life, research and practice, which have been so insidiously effective at deadening the experience of school at all levels.

Thank you.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A genius in his time.

Guilty as charged?

From Harper's.

Breaking the Chain
The antitrust case against Wal-Mart
Posted on Monday, July 31, 2006.
Originally from July 2006.
By Barry C. Lynn.

There is an undeniable beauty to laissez-faire theory, with its promise that by struggling against one another, by grasping and elbowing and shouting and shoving, we create efficiency and satisfaction and progress for all. This concept has shaped, at the most fundamental levels, how we understand and engineer our basic freedoms—economic, political, and moral. Until recently, however, most politicians and economists accepted that freedom within the marketplace had to be limited, at least to some degree, by rules designed to ensure general economic and social outcomes.

From Adam Smith onward, almost all the great preachers of laissez-faire were tempered by a strain of deep realism. Most accepted that a national economy ultimately served a nation that had to survive in an often brutal world. So, too, did most accept that all economies are characterized by struggles for power and precedence among men and institutions run by men; in other words, that all economies are fundamentally political in nature. And so most accepted the need to use the power of the state—most dramatically in the form of antitrust law—to prevent any one man or firm from consolidating so much power as to throw off basic balances. The invisible hand of the marketplace, and all that derives from it, had to be protected by the visible hand of government.

It is now twenty-five years since the Reagan Administration eviscerated America's century-long tradition of antitrust enforcement. For a generation, big firms have enjoyed almost complete license to use brute economic force to grow only bigger. And so today we find ourselves in a world dominated by immense global oligopolies that every day further limit the flexibility of our economy and our personal freedom within it. There are still many instances of intense competition—just ask General Motors.

But since the great opening of global markets in the early 1990s, the tendency within most of the systems we rely on for manufactured goods, processed commodities, and basic services has been toward ever more extreme consolidation. Consider raw materials: three firms control almost 75 percent of the global market in iron ore. Consider manufacturing services: Owens Illinois has rolled up roughly half the global capacity to supply glass containers. We see extreme consolidation in heavy equipment; General Electric builds 60 percent of large gas turbines as well as 60 percent of large wind turbines. In processed materials; Corning produces 60 percent of the glass for flat-screen televisions. Even in sneakers; Nike and Adidas split a 60-percent share of the global market. Consolidation reigns in banking, meatpacking, oil refining, and grains. It holds even in eyeglasses, a field in which the Italian firm Luxottica has captured control over five of the six national outlets in the U.S. market.

The stakes could not be higher. In systems where oligopolies rule unchecked by the state, competition itself is transformed from a free-for-all into a kind of private-property right, a license to the powerful to fence off entire marketplaces, there to pit supplier against supplier, community against community, and worker against worker, for their own private gain. When oligopolies rule unchecked by the state, what is perverted is the free market itself, and our freedom as individuals within the economy and ultimately within our political system as well.

* * *

Popular notions of oligopoly and monopoly tend to focus on the danger that firms, having gained control over a marketplace, will then be able to dictate an unfairly high price, extracting a sort of tax from society as a whole. But what should concern us today even more is a mirror image of monopoly called “monopsony.” Monopsony arises when a firm captures the ability to dictate price to its suppliers, because the suppliers have no real choice other than to deal with that buyer. Not all oligopolists rely on the exercise of monopsony, but a large and growing contingent of today’s largest firms are built to do just that. The ultimate danger of monopsony is that it deprives the firms that actually manufacture products from obtaining an adequate return on their investment. In other words, the ultimate danger of monopsony is that, over time, it tends to destroy the machines and skills on which we all rely.

Examples of monopsony can be difficult to pin down, but we are in luck in that today we have one of the best illustrations of monopsony pricing power in economic history: Wal-Mart. There is little need to recount at any length the retailer’s power over America’s marketplace. For our purposes, a few facts will suffice—that one in every five retail sales in America is recorded at Wal-Mart’s cash registers; that the firm’s revenue nearly equals that of the next six retailers combined; that for many goods, Wal-Mart accounts for upward of 30 percent of U.S. sales, and plans to more than double its sales within the next five years.

The effects of monopsony also can be difficult to pin down. But again we have easy illustrations ready to hand, in the surprising recent tribulations of two iconic American firms—Coca-Cola and Kraft. Coca-Cola is the quintessential seller of a product based on a “secret formula.” Recently, though, Wal-Mart decided that it did not approve of the artificial sweetener Coca-Cola planned to use in a new line of diet colas. In a response that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, Coca-Cola yielded to the will of an outside firm and designed a second product to meet Wal-Mart’s decree. Kraft, meanwhile, is a producer that only four years ago was celebrated by Forbes for “leading the charge” in a “brutal industry.” Yet since 2004, Kraft has announced plans to shut thirty-nine plants, to let go 13,500 workers, and to eliminate a quarter of its products. Most reports blame soaring prices of energy and raw materials, but in a truly free market Kraft could have pushed at least some of these higher costs on to the consumer. This, however, is no longer possible. Even as costs rise, Wal-Mart and other discounters continue to demand that Kraft lower its prices further. Kraft has found itself with no other choice than to swallow the costs, and hence to tear itself to pieces.

The idea that Wal-Mart’s power actually subverts the functioning of the free market will seem shocking to some. After all, the firm rose to dominance in the same way that many thousands of other companies before it did—through smart innovation, a unique culture, and a focus on serving the customer. Even a decade ago, Americans could fairly conclude that, in most respects, Wal-Mart’s rise had been good for the nation. But the issue before us is not how Wal-Mart grew to scale but how Wal-Mart uses its power today and will use it tomorrow. The problem is that Wal-Mart, like other monopsonists, does not participate in the market so much as use its power to micromanage the market, carefully coordinating the actions of thousands of firms from a position above the market.

One of the basic premises of the free-market system is that actors are free to buy from or sell to a variety of other actors. In the case of Wal-Mart, no one can deny that every single firm that supplies the retailer is, technically, free not to do so. But is this true in the real world? After all, once a firm comes to depend on selling through Wal-Mart’s system, just how conceivable is the idea of walking away? Producers own and maintain machines, employ skilled workers, lease land and buildings. Even with careful planning, most would find the sudden surrender of 20 percent or more of their revenue to be extremely disruptive, if not suicidal.

Another basic premise of the free-market system is that the price of a commodity or good carries vital information from actor to actor within an economy—say, that cherries are scarce, or vinyl floor tiles abundant, or the latest iPod includes a new technology. Again, no one can deny that, technically, every firm that supplies Wal-Mart is free to ask whatever price it wants. But again, we must ask whether this holds true in the real world. Every producer knows that Wal-Mart is, as one of its executives told the New York Times, a “no-nonsense negotiator,” which means the firm sets take-it-or-leave-it prices, which as we know from the previous paragraph are far harder to leave than to take. Every so often Wal-Mart will accept a higher price, but then the retailer’s managers may opt to punish the offending supplier, perhaps by ratcheting up competition with its own in-house brands. Price, within the consumer economy, increasingly carries but one bit of information—that Wal-Mart is powerful enough to bend everyone else to its will.

Those who would use the word “free” to describe the market over which Wal-Mart presides should first consult with Coca-Cola’s product- design department; or with Kraft managers, or Kraft shareholders, or the Kraft employees who lost their jobs. These results were decided not within the scrum of the marketplace but by a single firm. Free-market utopians have long decried government industrial policy because it puts into the hands of bureaucrats and politicians the power to determine which firms “win” and which “lose.” Wal-Mart picks winners and losers every day, and the losers have no recourse to any court or any political representative anywhere.

* * *

Antimonopoly sentiment in America dates to the nation’s founding. We see it in the acceptance by the thirteen newly independent states of English common law, with its rich antimonopoly tradition. We see it in the most vital statement on industry in American history, Alexander Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures, itself deeply influenced by Adam Smith’s antimonopoly writings in The Wealth of Nations. We see its citizen-centered nature in a 1792 essay by James Madison, in which he condemns monopolies for denying Americans “that free use of their faculties, and free choice of their occupations, which not only constitute their property in the general sense of the word; but are the means of acquiring property strictly so called.” We see it dominating many of the great political battles of the nineteenth century, from Andrew Jackson’s war on the Second Bank of the United States to William Jennings Bryan’s populist campaign of 1896.

It would be wrong, however, to regard America’s powerful antitrust law of the twentieth century as especially populist in nature. By the time Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890, the industrial explosion that began during the Civil War had resulted in the rise of hundreds of big firms, which often proved far more efficient than their older, smaller competitors. The phenomenal productivity of these newcomers tempered support for more radical antimonopoly proposals. The result was a sort of compromise, engineered mainly by the progressive wing of the Republican Party. The Sherman Act came to be seen not as a license to destroy all big firms simply because they were big but as a very big stick with which to convince the average firm not to overreach, and on rare occasions to break companies like Standard Oil, which had developed reputations for grossly abusing power. Most big firms were allowed to remain big as long as they avoided outright collusion with competitors, or extreme abuse of their consumers, or overly rapid predation against smaller property holders.

Thus did antitrust power come to serve as a sort of constitutional law within America’s political economy. The goal was to enforce a balance of power among economic actors of all sizes, to maintain some degree of liberty at all levels within the economy. In recent years it has become a truism that antitrust law is designed to protect only the consumer. But the fact that Congress intended these laws also to preserve both competition per se and to shelter entire classes of entrepreneurs (among whom is the individual worker) was clear at the beginning and has been made clearer many times since. The text of the Sherman Act itself is famously vague, but the Supreme Court’s decision in the 1911 Standard Oil case was based flatly on the assumption that the need to ensure robust competition sometimes outweighs the benefits of near-term efficiency. Standard’s roll-up of the oil industry cut the cost of kerosene by nearly 70 percent, and yet the justices shattered the firm into thirty-four pieces. For many legislators, this was not nearly enough. Three years later, Congress greatly strengthened the rules against inter-firm price discrimination, in the Clayton Antitrust Act. Then in 1936, Congress did so again, even more resoundingly, by passing the Robinson-Patman Act. Wright Patman, the Texas Democrat who was the main force behind the bill, made sure everyone understood Congress’s intent. “The expressed purpose of the Act is to protect the independent merchant,” he wrote on the first page of a book he published to explain the law, “and the manufacturer from whom he buys.”

During the twentieth century, antitrust law shaped the American economy more than did any other government power. Over the years, many thousands of antitrust cases were filed, by federal and state governments against particular firms and by one firm against another. Antitrust law determined not merely how big a firm could grow but where it could do business, how it was managed, how it could compete, even what lines of business it could enter. As the industrial scholar Alfred D. Chandler has noted, the vertically integrated firm—which dominated the American economy for most of the last century—was to a great degree the product of antitrust enforcement. When Theodore Roosevelt began to limit the ability of large companies to grow horizontally, many responded by buying outside suppliers and integrating their operations into vertical lines of production. Many also set up internal research labs to improve existing products and develop new ones. Antitrust law later played a huge role in launching the information revolution. During the Cold War, the Justice Department routinely used antitrust suits to force high-tech firms to share the technologies they had developed. Targeted firms like IBM, RCA, AT&T, and Xerox spilled many thousands of patents onto the market, where they were available to any American competitor for free.

When Ronald Reagan took power in 1981, one of his first targets was antitrust law. The new administration put forth a variety of arguments—not least that international competition, especially with Japan, had rendered moot the old fears of monopoly. Yet the driving motive clearly was the philosophical antipathy of the Reaganites to the idea that the American people, acting through their representatives, had any business whatsoever telling business what to do. And the practical effect was to harness the institution of the corporation to that administration’s larger project of shifting power and profit from the working, middle, and entrepreneurial classes to the powerful and rich. The radical nature of Reagan’s attack on antitrust law is, in retrospect, astounding. Early in the administration, Attorney General William French Smith declared that “bigness is not necessarily badness.” Antitrust enforcer William Baxter held that big firms were more efficient than smaller and said he had the “science” to prove it. When the Reagan team published its new Merger Guidelines in 1982, the document formalized two revolutionary changes: it redefined the American marketplace as global in nature, and it severely restricted who could be regarded as a victim of monopoly. From this point on, only one action could be regarded as truly unacceptable—to gouge the consumer. Any firm that avoided such a clumsy act was, for all intents, free to gouge any other class of citizen, not least through predatory pricing and the blatant exercise of power over suppliers and workers.

* * *

If a single business deal illuminates the degree to which Wal-Mart has centralized control over America’s consumer economy, it was last year’s takeover of Gillette by Procter & Gamble. Gillette would seem one of the last firms likely to find itself unable to protect its pricing power; its 70 percent share of global razor sales gives it some weight at the negotiating table. Yet the Boston-based firm discovered that it could no longer keep its profit margins safely out of the grasp of the Arkansas retailer. And so was conceived the largest in a long list of buyouts due at least in part to Wal-Mart’s power, including Newell’s takeover of Rubbermaid, Kellogg’s purchase of Keebler, and Kraft’s buyout of Nabisco. And of course there is the long list of firms that have ended up dead or in Chapter 11 reorganization at least partly because of their dealings with Wal-Mart. Some are small fry, like Vlasic Foods. Others were once powers, like Pillowtex. Some were beloved brands, like Schwinn. Others were family enterprises, like Lovable Garments.

Even with Gillette in hand, Procter & Gamble itself is anything but safe. For decades, P&G was regarded by retailers as the “800-pound gorilla” among suppliers of home products. It was one of two firms that most spurred Sam Walton as he built Wal-Mart—the competitor to beat was K-Mart; the supplier to tame, P&G. By the time Walton died in the early 1990s, he was able to brag of how he had forced P&G to accept a “win-win partnership” based on the sharing of information. Had he lived a few years longer, though, Walton would have witnessed what amounts to the outright capture of his foe. And for a man who spent much of his life scrounging for deals on lingerie and hawking hula-hoop knockoffs, he would surely have relished how this struggle for the heights of the consumer economy was decided by the power to price toilet paper and detergent. In recent years, Wal-Mart beat P&G into submission by mercilessly pitting its in-house brands against top P&G brands; the retailer, for instance, introduced not one but two detergents to compete with Tide and, in a particularly audacious move, grabbed outright the copyright for the White Cloud line of toilet paper, after P&G unwisely forgot to protect its own brand’s name.

With the purchase of Gillette, P&G has achieved a new scope and scale, vaulting past Unilever to become the world’s biggest maker of consumer goods. Yet the new balance of power is unlikely to last. Wal-Mart has become so strong, so sure of the invulnerability of its position, that not only does it not fear consolidation among its suppliers; it actually forces many of them to form fully self-conscious, collusive oligopolies with their rivals. Not that these relationships are advertised as such. The key here is the innocuous-sounding term “category management,” and it describes a practice that is now common to all large retailers. But it is a practice that grew out of Wal-Mart’s original “partnership” with P&G, and it is a practice that has been pushed especially hard by Wal-Mart.

Until recently, every retailer would draw up its own merchandising plan, detailing which brands to promote, how much shelf space to grant each, which products to place at eye level. These days, Wal-Mart and a growing number of other retailers ask a single supplier to serve as its “Category Captain” and to manage the shelving and marketing decisions for an entire family of products, say, dental care. Wal-Mart then requires all other producers of this class of products to cooperate with the new “Captain.” One obvious result is that a producer like Colgate-Palmolive will end up working intensely with firms it formerly competed with, such as Crest manufacturer P&G, to find the mix of products that will allow Wal-Mart to earn the most it can from its shelf space. If Wal-Mart discovers that a supplier promotes its own product at the expense of Wal-Mart’s revenue, the retailer may name a new captain in its stead.[1] Not surprisingly, one common result is that many producers simply stop competing head to head. In many instances, a single firm ends up controlling 70 percent or more of U.S. sales in an entire product line, such as canned soups or chips. In exchange, its competitor will expect that firm to yield 70 percent or more of some other product line, say, snacks or spices. Such sharing out of markets by oligopolies is taking place throughout the non-branded economy—in grains, meats, medical devices, chemicals, electronic components. But nowhere is it more visible than in the aisles of Wal-Mart.

In essence, Wal-Mart has grown so powerful that it can turn even its largest suppliers, and entire oligopolized industries, into extensions of itself. The effects of this practice are most obvious in Wal-Mart’s horizontal competition against other retailers. Retail experts sometimes talk of a “waterbed effect,” which takes place when a supplier insists on collecting from weaker retailers at least some of the rent a more powerful firm refuses to pay. One recent study of how such power plays out within an entire system shows that a small retailer can expect to pay upward of 10 percent more than a powerful firm for the same basket of items. The effect also explains what takes place economically between communities served by Wal-Mart and those served by less powerful firms—the more power Wal-Mart accrues, the more it is able to shift costs from, say, suburb to city. And so every day the competitive landscape tilts just that much more in Wal-Mart’s favor. And so, every year, the landscape is littered with that many more dead or half-dead retailers—including such once-big names as Winn Dixie, Albertsons, K-Mart, Toys R Us, and Sears.

This advantage is simply what can be quantified in price. Many of the benefits Wal-Mart extracts from its suppliers lie in a realm far beyond the market economy. If Wal-Mart’s aim were simply to dictate the price it will pay for a product, then leave up to its suppliers all decisions as to how to get to that price, it would cause far less economic damage than it does now. But that is not Wal-Mart’s way. Instead, the firm is also one of the world’s most intrusive, jealous, fastidious micromanagers, and its aim is nothing less than to remake entirely how its suppliers do business, not least so that it can shift many of its own costs of doing business onto them. In addition to dictating what price its suppliers must accept, Wal-Mart also dictates how they package their products, how they ship those products, and how they gather and process information on the movement of those products. Take, for instance, Levi Strauss & Co. Wal-Mart dictates that its suppliers tell it what price they charge Wal-Mart’s competitors, that they accept payment entirely on Wal-Mart’s terms, and that they share information all the way back to the purchase of raw materials. Take, for instance, Newell Rubbermaid. Wal-Mart controls with whom its suppliers speak, how and where they can sell their goods, and even encourages them to support Wal-Mart in its political fights. Take, for instance, Disney. Wal-Mart all but dictates to suppliers where to manufacture their products, as well as how to design those products and what materials and ingredients to use in those products. Take, for instance, Coca-Cola.

We should be most disturbed by the fact that Wal-Mart has gathered the power to dictate content, even to the most powerful of its suppliers. Because no longer is the retailer’s attention focused only on firms that produce T-shirts, electrical cords, and breakfast cereal. Every day Wal-Mart expands its share of the U.S. markets for magazines, recorded music, films on DVD, and books. This means that every day its tastes, interests, and peculiarities weigh that much more on decisions made in Hollywood studios, in Manhattan publishing houses, and in the editorial offices of newspapers and network news shows. Americans who favor abortion have much to worry about these days, between South Dakota’s recent ban and the appointment to the Supreme Court of Justice Joseph Alito. But at least these battles are taking place entirely in the public eye, and the decisions are being made by democratically elected representatives. Such was not the case when Wal-Mart recently decided to allow each individual pharmacist in the company to choose whether or not to stock the “morning after” pill. Given the degree to which Wal-Mart has rolled up the pharmaceutical business in many towns and regions across the country, this act amounted, for all intents, to a de facto ban on these pills in many communities. This political decision was made and enforced by a private monopoly.

* * *

To appreciate just how blatantly Wal-Mart defies America’s antitrust tradition, consider how our grandparents handled the last retailer to gather extreme power: the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company. Better known as the A&P, the grocer at its height operated more than 4,000 supermarkets in nearly forty states and wielded immense influence over the entire food economy. The A&P was famous for its innovations in discount retailing, in distribution, in advertising. And it was infamous for its use of monopsony power, not least its perfection of the art of setting in-house brands against producers who resisted its will. Relative to Wal-Mart today, the A&P a half century ago was a far less awesome force. The firm sold only groceries; it was only double the size of its nearest competitor; and its total workforce was, as a percentage of the U.S. population, only a fifth as large as Wal-Mart’s is now. Even so, the A&P was widely and vociferously denounced by local communities, state governments, newspapers, and labor unions as a threat to the American way of life.

Over the years, the federal government repeatedly hauled the A&P into court for abusing its market power. The government first began to scrutinize the firm in 1915, when Cream of Wheat refused to sell to the A&P because of its pricing policy. Then in 1936 came the Robinson-Patman law, which was popularly known as the “Anti-A&P Act.” A year later, the Federal Trade Commission filed suit against the A&P, charging that the company had forced a Maryland vegetable packer to grant it a special 4 percent discount. In November 1942, the Antitrust Division filed a Sherman Act case against the retailer, one section of which detailed how the A&P had used “several turns of the screw” to coerce Ralston Purina into granting it a discount three and a half times what the cereal packer offered any other firm. Three years after winning that case, the Justice Department was back in court in September 1949 with another Sherman Act suit, this time asking for the dismemberment of the A&P. Filed at a time when the grocer was already clearly in decline—not least because of antitrust enforcement—the 1949 case was dropped five years later. But this was only after the A&P admitted guilt, agreed to dissolve an internal company that traded in agricultural products, and signed an outright prohibition against “dictating systematically” to suppliers. The final antitrust case against the A&P was not resolved until February 1979, a month after a West German grocery mogul bought control over the remnants of the once-huge firm.

Antitrust enforcement against the A&P and other big firms like Sears prevented any twentieth-century American retailer from ever growing nearly as powerful as Wal-Mart is today. But since the Reagan Administration, the only effective constraints on Wal-Mart have been set by investors and revenue flow. Even during the 1990s, when the Clinton Administration targeted a few companies for abusing their pricing power, the Arkansas-based retailer somehow managed to avoid any action. It is unclear whether this was in any way due to the close relationship between the Clinton family and Wal-Mart, on whose board Hillary Clinton served for many years. But even as Staples and McCormick & Co. were sued, a firm with vastly more power over the American economy was left entirely free to extend its domain in whatever direction and to whatever extent it wished. In fact, in one of the highest-profile antitrust cases of the 1990s, an FTC suit against Toys R Us for colluding with toy manufacturers, Wal-Mart emerged as one of the biggest winners.

The Reagan Administration’s assault on antitrust enforcement had an even more dramatic effect on manufacturers. Complete license to expand horizontally resulted, in many industries, in the virtual collapse of the vertically integrated firm. Once they consolidated control over their marketplaces, scores of big manufacturers shut down or spun off most or even all of such naturally expensive and risky activities as production and research. These firms opted instead to purchase components and other manufacturing “services” from smaller companies whose main or only path to the final marketplace passed through their offices. This is true of corporations as diverse as Nike, Boeing, 3M, and Merck. Although it has become commonplace to trace the phenomenon of “outsourcing” to the emergence of new technologies and changes in the global “marketplace,” it is much more accurate to trace it back to the disappearance of antitrust enforcement. The change in law that gave Wal-Mart license to grow to such a huge size also gave to many manufacturers the license to recast themselves in Wal-Mart’s image and become retailers themselves. The result? More and more production systems are run by companies designed not to manufacture but to trade in components manufactured by other, smaller firms, over which they can exercise at least some degree of monopsony power.

* * *

Some of Wal-Mart’s more sophisticated boosters will defend the company by defending the exercise of monopsony power itself. Wal-Mart, in their view, should be seen as a firm that aggregates our will and buying power as consumers in much the same way that unions once aggregated the interests of workers. One of the better known versions of the argument was put forth by Jason Furman, a former campaign adviser to Senator John Kerry, who last year published a strong defense of Wal-Mart. The huge retailer, Furman wrote, is “a progressive success story” that has brought “huge benefits” to the “American middle class.” Sure, this argument goes, Wal-Mart may employ its power with a certain Stalinist flair; but it does so in our name, and the result is to make the production system on which we all rely more efficient. This efficiency is good for all society, and it is especially good for those poor folks who cling to the lower rungs of the economic ladder.

There are two great flaws in such thinking. The first and most obvious is that it ignores the effects of monopoly on our political system—the consolidation of vision and voice, the de facto merger of private and public spheres, the gathering of power unchecked and unaccountable. It is to view American society through an entirely materialistic prism, to measure “human progress” only in terms of how many calories or blouses can be stuffed into an individual’s shopping cart. It is to view the American citizen not as someone who yearns to decide for himself or herself what to buy and where to work in a free market but to say, instead, “Let them eat Tastykake.”

The second flaw is economic, and is of even more immediate concern. Even if the American people did choose to bear the extreme political costs of monopoly, the particular type of power wielded by Wal-Mart and its emulators makes no economic sense in the long run. On the surface, it may seem to matter little who wins the great battles between such goliaths as Wal-Mart and Kraft, or between Wal-Mart and P&G. Yet which firm prevails can have a huge effect on the welfare of our society over time. The difference between a system dominated by firms built to produce and a system dominated by firms built to exercise monopsony power over producers is extreme. The producers that dominated the American economy for most of the twentieth century were geared to build more and to introduce new, to protect their capital investments against overly predatory investors, to raise price faster than cost, to show some degree of loyalty to workers and outside suppliers and communities. Wal-Mart and a growing number of today’s dominant firms, by contrast, are programmed to cut cost faster than price, to slow the introduction of new technologies and techniques, to dictate downward the wages and profits of the millions of people and smaller firms who make and grow what they sell, to break down entire lines of production in the name of efficiency. The effects of this change are clear: We see them in the collapsing profit margins of the firms caught in Wal-Mart’s system. We see them in the fact that of Wal-Mart’s top ten suppliers in 1994, four have sought bankruptcy protection.

In a world of rising tensions within and among nations, of accelerating climate and environmental change, we would be wise to design the production systems on which we rely to be able to evolve as rapidly as the human and natural worlds around us evolve. Instead, we have programmed the dominant institutions within our economy to eliminate all the wonderful chaos of a free-market system. Rather than speed up the random motion and serendipitous collisions that have for so long propelled the American economy, Wal-Mart and other monopsonists are slowly freezing our economy into an ever more rigid crystal that holds each of us ever more tightly in place, and that every day is more liable to collapse from some sudden shock. To defend Wal-Mart for its low prices is to claim that the most perfect form of economic organization more closely resembles the Soviet Union in 1950 than twentieth-century America. It is to celebrate rationalization to the point of complete irrationality.

* * *

There are many ways to counterbalance the power of Wal-Mart and the other new goliaths. In the case of Wal-Mart, we could encourage yet more mergers among its suppliers and its competitors. Or we could make it easier for its workers to unionize. Or we could micromanage the firm through our state and municipal governments (e.g., requiring it, as Maryland recently did, to devote 8 percent of its payroll to health insurance). Yet every one of these approaches runs the risk of only further warping our economy and perhaps even reinforcing Wal-Mart’s power by creating new allies for it. After all, super-consolidated suppliers already share many of Wal-Mart’s political interests; labor unions now committed to Wal-Mart’s destruction could overnight become equally as committed to the further extension of Wal-Mart’s power; and new bureaucracies will generally tend to sympathize with the firms they regulate. We can also, of course, choose to do nothing, and surrender to the immense retailer all the decisions that in the past were made within the marketplace itself or by democratically elected legislators. In other words, we can cede to Wal-Mart the role it so relentlessly seeks for itself—to be dictator over the central functions of the U.S. consumer economy.

If, however, we choose the path of the free market, and of individual freedom within the market; if we choose to ensure the health and flexibility of our economy and our industrial systems and our society; if we choose to protect our republican way of government, which depends on the separation of powers within our economy just as in our political system—then we have only one choice. We must restore antitrust law to its central role in protecting the economic rights, properties, and liberties of the American citizen, and first of all use that power to break Wal-Mart into pieces. We can devise no magic formula or scientific plan for doing so—all antitrust decisions are inherently subjective in nature. But when we do so, we should be confident that we act squarely in the American tradition, as illuminated by the cases against Standard Oil and the A&P. We should act knowing that the ultimate fault lies not with Wal-Mart but with our last generation of representatives, who have abjectly failed to enforce laws refined over the course of two centuries. We should act knowing that much similar work lies ahead, against many other giant oligopolies, in many other sectors. We should act knowing that to falter is to guarantee political and perhaps economic disaster.

As we make our case, we should be sure to call one expert witness in particular. Last year, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott called on the British government to take antitrust action against the U.K. grocery chain Tesco. Whenever a firm nears a 30 percent share of any market, Scott said, “there is a point where government is compelled to intervene.” Now, Wal-Mart has never been shy about using antitrust for its own purposes. In addition to the Toys R Us case, the firm was also the instigator of a Sherman Act suit against Visa and MasterCard. And so such a statement, by the CEO of a firm that already controls upward of 30 percent of many markets and has announced plans to more than double its sales, sets a new standard for hubris. It also sets a simple goal for us—elect representatives who will take Citizen Scott at his word.
About the Author

Barry C. Lynn is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and the author of End of the Line: The Rise and Coming Fall of the Global Corporation..
Notes

1. Such blatantly enforced collusion has not gone entirely unnoticed in Washington. Toward the end of its time in office, even the merger-happy Clinton Administration allowed the Federal Trade Commission to launch an investigation of these practices, and an FTC report in early 2001 identified four ways that Category Management may violate even the remarkably loose antitrust guidelines of the last generation. All four of these violations cut right to the core of the free-market system. As the FTC put it, a category captain might “(1) learn confidential information about rivals’ plans; (2) hinder the expansion of rivals, (3) promote collusion among retailers; or (4) facilitate collusion among manufacturers.” In Wal-Mart’s world, all four violations are present to at least some extent. [Back]

Overstimulation leads to undercontentment.

If you have seen everything, what is there left but boredom?

Underwhelmed by It All
For the 12-to-24 set, boredom is a recreational hazard.
By Robin Abcarian and John Horn, Times Staff Writers
August 7, 2006

With their vast arsenals of electronic gear, they are the most entertained generation ever. Yet the YouTubing, MySpacing, multi-tasking teens and young adults widely seen as Hollywood's most wanted audience are feeling — can it be? — a bit bored with it all.

A new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll, the first in a series of annual entertainment surveys, finds that a large majority of the 12- to 24-year-olds surveyed are bored with their entertainment choices some or most of the time, and a substantial minority think that even in a kajillion-channel universe, they don't have nearly enough options. "I feel bored like all the time, 'cause there is like nothing to do," said Shannon Carlson, 13, of Warren, Ohio, a respondent who has an array of gadgets, equipment and entertainment options at her disposal but can't ward off ennui.

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They do seem to be passionate about their electronic devices, though, especially their computers, which ranked even above cellphones when respondents were offered a "desert island" choice of one item. Still, the poll suggests that the revolution in entertainment, media and technology for which many in Hollywood are already developing strategies has not yet taken hold.

For example, respondents say that traditional sources such as television advertising and radio airplay still tend to drive their decisions about movies and music more than online networking sites. Those interested in keeping up with current events report a surprising interest in conventional news sources, especially local TV news. And although many see their computers as a perfectly good place to watch a TV show or a movie, there does not appear to be widespread desire to take in, say, "Spider-Man 3" on their video iPods.

But there's little comfort here for movie theater owners. The multiplex isn't very popular either.

Even though 2006's box-office grosses are running 7% ahead of last year's, the poll found waning interest in seeing movies in theaters. Although the youngest teens say they're hitting the multiplex as often as ever, many young adults report that they're seeing fewer films in theaters. The main complaints are expensive tickets and concessions, but rude moviegoers and "bad movies" are factors too.

"It doesn't seem like there's anything good," says Emma Standring-Trueblood, a 16-year-old who is soon to start her junior year at Oak Park High School near Agoura Hills. "I'd say a good episode of 'The West Wing' is better than most of the stuff that gets out there."

A signature trait of those surveyed is a predilection for doing several things at the same time, with a majority of females in every age group and males from 15 to 17 and 21 to 24 saying they prefer to multi-task rather than to do one thing at a time.

Nathaniel Johnson, a 17-year-old senior at Claremont High School who took part in the survey, spoke for the 62% of boys in his age group who like to multi-task. He's a big fan of what the computer allows him to do: "You can open five or six programs simultaneously: work on a project, type a report, watch YouTube, check e-mail and watch a movie."

Unlike some of his peers, who report doing as many as four or five things simultaneously — such as homework, instant messaging, surfing the Net, talking on the phone and listening to music — Nathaniel discovered through trial and error that he could do only three things well at a time. "Generally," he said, "you feel overwhelmed at some point if you are trying to do too many things at once."

Like many others surveyed, Nathaniel rarely does his homework in a quiet environment. For him, homework and hard rock are inseparable. "Most people think it's horribly distracting," he said, "but I did get a 4.0 GPA." (A small number of the multi-taskers managed to fit in a video game too, but a great majority of young males who play video games — including 74% of younger teens — do not engage in other activities while doing so.)

Young people multi-task, they say, because they are too busy to do only one thing at a time, because they need something to do during commercials or, for most (including 64% of girls 12 to 14), it's boring to do just one thing at a time.

The poll, under the supervision of Los Angeles Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus, interviewed 839 teenagers (ages 12 to 17) and 811 young adults (18 to 24) from June 23 to July 3 using the Knowledge Networks' Web panel, which provides a representative sample of U.S. households. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for both age group samples.

Maybe it is part of the human condition that the young are bored, but some think that this generation — children of baby boomers, sometimes called millennials — has been spoiled by the sheer volume of entertainment and technology choices available.

"I think there is more media gratification that younger people feel entitled to," said Jordan Levin, who should know. Levin, a former chief executive of the WB network, was instrumental in developing the hit young adult shows "Felicity" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

Levin is now a partner in Generate, an entertainment company whose programs, thanks to an exclusive deal with MTV Networks, will be seen on television, cellphones and the Internet. Kids, Levin said, "have grown up in an environment where they expect to get what they want, where they want it, when they want it."

Throughout Hollywood, the race is on to develop entertainment that captures the attention of this distracted generation. The head of MTV Films just left to start a Viacom division that will make episodic shows for cellphones, iPods and computers. BitTorrent, once known as a top site for Internet pirates, has begun serving original — and lawfully shared — programming.

The studios also are looking to video games for artistic inspiration, which makes sense given the poll finding that 67% of boys ages 12 to 17 regularly play games on their computers. Among the game-inspired movies in the works: "Halo," "Hitman" and a sequel to "Resident Evil."

Some theater owners have taken notice of the huge teen demand for video games. National Amusements is renovating a theater to create a CyberZone video gaming site in Ypsilanti, Mich., which will offer nearly 80 PCs, PlayStations and Xboxes in an area adjacent to its movie screens.

Despite the technological advances that are changing the way entertainment is delivered and consumed, good old-fashioned word of mouth — with a tech twist, thanks to text messaging — continues to be one of the most important factors influencing the choices that young people make.

As the Times/Bloomberg poll found, those recommendations (or pans) play a significant role in determining attendance. When asked how soon after seeing a movie they told their friends about it, 38% of teens and 40% of young adults said they told their friends the same day.

"Those text messages are a very powerful tool," said Jeff Blake, chairman of marketing and distribution for Sony Pictures Entertainment. "You certainly have the feeling that what they say in their text messages is just as important — if not more important — as the quote we put at the top of our ad. These kids listen to each other."

When it comes to the content of their entertainment, those surveyed tended to be quite tolerant of violence, gross-out humor and swearing in movies.

Yet a surprisingly high number of teenage boys (58%) and even more teenage girls (74%) said they were offended by material they felt disrespected women and girls. (How they reconcile that with their preference for the often-sexist aesthetic of rap music, the top music choice among respondents who specified a genre, is a topic for another poll.) Respondents who considered themselves religious were much more likely to be offended by gay and lesbian content. Young men 18 to 24 aren't offended by much; even material that disrespects women bothers only about 40% of this group.

Twelve-year-old Melina Erkan, a seventh-grader in Monroe, Conn., said she used to watch a lot of music videos on MTV and VH1 but has become increasingly turned off by the prevalent images of scantily dressed women. "Sometimes in the music videos these days, the women they have dancing in the background, they dress really cheap, and women don't really look like that and act like that," she said. "When I see that, I change the channel to something I like."

Hannah Montee, a 21-year-old college student in Liberal, Mo., said she had practically stopped watching TV because of all the vulgarity she saw. "I get tired of hearing all the cussing and the sexual innuendoes," she said.

Younger teens report that their parents keep a tight rein on their entertainment and technology habits. Nearly 3 out of 5 in this group say their parents restrict what they download, whether it's music, movies or other content. And although for many teenagers adult intrusion is unwelcome, parents can take some solace in the fact that about 15% of 12- to 17-year-olds answered "my parents" when asked how they found out about the music they'd most recently acquired.

Only 4% of the 12- to 17-year-olds reported that their parents didn't know much about their entertainment and communication choices. About a quarter of young teenage boys said they fought with their parents about video games or the music they listened to, whereas girls tended to fight with their parents about cellphone use.

(Girls play video games, but fewer than 1% of female poll respondents of all ages said they would choose a video game console if they could have only one item on a desert island from a list that also included a computer, a cellphone, a television, an iPod or an MP3 player.)

Renee Hampton, a 14-year-old ninth-grader in Chapmansboro, Tenn., battles with her parents over the time she spends online. Though most teens her age reported spending less than two hours a day on the computer, Renee said that this summer she was spending eight hours a day online. "My parents think I need to get outside more," she said. "I say that I get outside enough."

Renee loves Japanese cartoons and spends a lot of her online time creating animated music videos with anime characters, which she posts on the phenomenally popular site YouTube.com. Certain websites, she reported, are off-limits, but she wasn't sure why.

"Hey, Mom," she said. "Why are you against MySpace?"

"I have heard too many things about perverts on there and that it's not a good place for children," her mother replied.

"Mom," Renee said, "that's so stupid."

Renee may be frustrated, but her peers reported similar parental involvement. About a third of boys and girls ages 12 to 14 said their parents didn't let them go on social networking sites such as MySpace. About 15% of the kids 15 to 17 said their parents restricted access, but by age 18, parental control had melted away.

Another concern for adults is multi-tasking. For the most part, experts have not looked closely at how teens' and young adults' thinking skills, especially when it comes to homework, may be affected by what one software executive has dubbed "constant partial attention."

"It's like being in a candy store," said Gloria Mark, a UC Irvine professor who studies interactions between people and computers. "You aren't going to ignore the candy; you are going to try it all."

Mark, who has studied multi-tasking by 25- to 35-year-old high-tech workers, believes that the group is not much different from 12- to 24-year-olds, since the two groups grew up with similar technology. She frets that "a pattern of constant interruption" is creating a generation that will not know how to lose itself in thought.

"You know the concept of 'flow'?" asked Mark, referring to an idea popularized by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi about the benefits of complete absorption and focus. "You have to focus and concentrate, and this state of flow only comes when you do that…. Maybe it's an old-fogy notion, but it's an eternal one: Anyone with great ideas is going to have to spend some time deep in thought."

*

(INFOBOX BELOW)

Voting power

For young consumers old enough to vote, government matters more than 'American Idol.'

Q: Have you ever voted for an 'American Idol' contestant?

Ages 18-20

Yes, voted for contestant 16%

No, not voted for contestant 84%

Ages 21-24

Yes, voted for contestant 24%

No, not voted for contestant 76%

--

Q: Have you ever voted for a political candidate for a government office?

Ages 18-20

Yes, voted for candidate 37%

No, not voted for candidate 63%

Ages 21-24

Yes, voted for candidate 63%

No, not voted for candidate 37%

Source: Times/Bloomberg poll

**

Attention deficit

Despite an increasing number of choices, young consumers of entertainment still tend to be bored.

Q: How often are you bored with the entertainment choices available to you?

Ages 12-17

Male

Often/sometimes: 69&

Rarely/never: 31%

Female

Often/sometimes: 75%

Rarely/never: 25%

Ages 18-20

Male

Often/sometimes: 73%

Rarely/never: 27%

Female

Often/sometimes: 73%

Rarely/never: 27%

Ages 21-24

Male

Often/sometimes: 65%

Rarely/never: 35%

Female

Often/sometimes: 76%

Rarely/never: 24%

--

Q. In general, do you like to focus on one thing at a time, or would you rather multi-task, that is do more than one thing at a time?

Males

Ages 12-14

Focus on one thing at a time: 50%

Multi-task: 50%

Females

Ages 12-14

Focus on one thing at a time: 37%

Multi-task: 63%

*

Males

Ages 15-17

Focus on one thing at a time: 38%

Multi-task: 62%

Females

Ages 15-17

Focus on one thing at a time: 29%

Multi-task: 71%

*

Males

Ages 18-20

Focus on one thing at a time: 52%

Multi-task: 48%

Females

Ages 18-20

Focus on one thing at a time: 28%

Multi-task: 72%

*

Males

Ages 21-24

Focus on one thing at a time: 46%

Multi-task: 54%

Females

Ages 21-24

Focus on one thing at a time: 37%

Multi-task: 63%

--

Asked of those who multi-task

Q. What is the reason for that? (Multiple selections allowed, top four responses shown.)

Ages 12-14

It's something to do during commercials

Male: 39%

Female: 46%

My schedule keeps me too busy to do only one thing at a time

Male: 14%

Female: 26%

It's boring to just do one thing at a time

Male: 51%

Female: 64%

I like to stay in touch with my friends at all times

Male: 16%

Female: 33%

*

Ages 15-17

It's something to do during commercials

Male: 37%

Female: 48%

My schedule keeps me too busy to do only one thing at a time

Male: 14%

Female: 28%

It's boring to just do one thing at a time

Male: 58%

Female: 47%

I like to stay in touch with my friends at all times

Male: 31%

Female: 32%

*

Ages 18-20

It's something to do during commercials

Male: 42%

Female: 54%

My schedule keeps me too busy to do only one thing at a time

Male: 30%

Female: 40%

It's boring to just do one thing at a time

Male: 40%

Female: 47%

I like to stay in touch with my friends at all times

Male: 27%

Female: 17%

*

Ages 21-24

It's something to do during commercials

Male: 35%

Female: 40%

My schedule keeps me too busy to do only one thing at a time

Male: 25%

Female: 53%

It's boring to just do one thing at a time

Male: 35%

Female: 22%

I like to stay in touch with my friends at all times

Male: 12%

Female: 6%

--

How the poll was conducted

The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll was conducted from June 23 to July 3 using the Knowledge Networks' Web-enabled panel, which provides a representative nationwide sample of U.S. households. Of the 4,466 minors and young adults invited to participate in the survey, 1,904 (43%) responded to the survey, with 1,650 qualifying. The 1,650 qualified respondents included 839 minors (ages 12 to 17) and 811 young adults (ages 18 to 24). The margin of sampling error for both groups is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In order to provide as representative a sample as possible, the survey results were weighted to U.S. census figures for 12- to 24-year-olds in the United States in terms of age, race or ethnicity, gender and region, and for urban or rural residence and Internet access.

--

Source: Times/Bloomberg poll

**

Contrary to expectations

So most young Americans get their news from Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show"? Don't be so sure. The first annual Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll managed to bust a number of myths. Among them:

Myth: More young adults cast ballots for "American Idol" than vote in political elections.

Truth: Only 21% of poll respondents ages 18 to 24 said they had voted for an "American Idol" contestant. But 53% said they had voted for a candidate for public office.

*

Myth: Kids run rampant on the Internet, evading the supervision of their parents, who are too old to figure out what their children are up to.

Truth: Nearly 7 in 10 of 12- to 17-year-olds said their parents knew how they spent their time online. Nearly 3 out of 5 12- to 14-year-olds said their parents restricted what they could download. About a third of boys and girls ages 12 to 14 are not allowed to go on social networking sites such as MySpace.com. Only 19% of boys and 13% of girls reported having no parental restrictions on computer use.

*

Myth: It's the rare teen who doesn't have a MySpace account these days.

Truth: More than half of teens ages 12 to 17 don't use social networking sites.

*

Myth: The Internet and MTV play a key role in influencing the music young people buy.

Truth: Fifty-seven percent of teens and young adults said they first heard new music on the radio. At least 3 out of 10 in both groups learned about new music by watching a music video on TV.

*

Myth: Time on the computer has replaced all those hours spent watching TV.

Truth: Almost half of teens said they spent up to two hours on the Internet each day, 29% said they spent up to four hours and 15% said they spent more than four hours. Twenty-three percent said they spent more than four hours watching TV. Many do both simultaneously.

*

Myth: Box-office receipts have suffered in recent years because the movies are bad and young people don't like bad movies.

Truth: The main reason young people give for not liking the theater experience is that tickets and concessions cost too much. Bad movies were ranked below moviegoers who talk during the feature and too many advertisements.

*

Myth: Most young adults get their news about current events from satirical shows such as "The Daily Show" or the Internet.

Truth: Just 3% of teenagers and 6% of young adults cited such programs as "The Daily Show" as their main source of information about current events. Only 10% of teens and 11% of young adults said blogs or other websites were their best source. Teens and young adults said they most frequently kept up by talking with friends and family and watching local TV news.

Source: Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll

**

On the Web

More about the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg entertainment poll at latimes.com/entertainmentpoll.

*

Times staff writer Matea Gold contributed to this report.