Recent Books: on Adolescence, Technology, Sexuality, and More
John Palfrey 2014-07-02
A few times per year, I have been sharing a “Head of School’s bookshelf” with community members at Phillips Academy. It comes this time in two parts: 1) six books that are among those I’ve read in the past few months and which I commend as “community reads” because of one or more connections to the work that we have underway at PA; and 2) a special list of readings about sexual education. I express my particular thanks to the members of the PA Sex Ed Working Group, who compiled the Part II listing below at my request. I hope you might go to your local independent bookstore or library to pick up a copy of ones that are of interest!
Part I: Adolescence, Education, Technology, and the Brain
danah boyd, It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (Yale, 2014)
Note: This book has been years in the making, by a close friend and collaborator of mine — and the work has paid off handsomely. danah’s perhaps the single most astute scholarly observer of the teenage social and cultural scene that I know. danah has especially thoughtful things to say about identity, privacy, safety, and social practices of teens. I’m a fan of this book for many reasons, not the least of which is that she takes up (and expands upon) many of the same themes and hard problems that my co-author and I examined in the book I wrote in 2008 (Born Digital, with Urs Gasser). Though her ethnographic methods are different than ours, the conclusions she reaches are consistent in most cases, and updated for the technology and practices of today. I learned an enormous amount from it and imagine others will, too; that’s especially true if you are interested in the social lives of the students in our midst. But you don’t have to have worked on these issues as a researcher to appreciate this book in many, many ways.
Dave Eggers, The Circle (Knopf, 2013)
Note: This book came to me initially as a gift, for which I’m grateful, from Tom Hodgson when it first came out (which is not meant as an appeal for gifts from the faculty, but to acknowledge its provenance and also to say that I take suggestions!). I always enjoy Dave Eggers’ writing. This fictional account describes a dystopia, in which the current trajectory toward extensive use of social media continues to an extreme that no one should welcome. The problem that the book presents is that this dystopia just might come to pass if we are not careful about the choices we make in how we develop, deploy, and regulate technology use.
Howard Gardner and Katie Davis, The App Generation: How Today’s Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy and Imagination in a Digital World (Yale, 2013)
Note: I’ve observed, admired, and worked with both of these co-authors on a range of matters, through their work at Project Zero at Harvard Graduate School of Education. In this book, they develop ideas that danah boyd also takes up in It’s Complicated, as well as many of those I’ve worked on in previous settings, too (identity, privacy, play, and how biology works into the mix). They add some nice insights about intimacy (chapter 5), as well as thoughts on how the app structure of today’s technology is playing out.
C.J. Pascoe, Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School (University of California, 2011)
Note: C.J. is a leading scholar of youth practices, with a deep knowledge of development in the context of sexuality as well as media usage. This book, which came out several years ago, remains one of the most thoughtful current books about masculinity and the cultures in which our students are coming to grips with and developing their sexual identity. She’s an ethnographer, who writes based on eighteen months of fieldwork in a racially diverse, working class high school environment. C.J. is a great writer and researcher; her book sheds much new light on the intersectionality between gender, sexuality, race, and media. I also thought there were interesting echoes in particular of our PA colleague Tony Rotundo’s “American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era” (Basic Books, 1993).
Martin E.P. Seligman, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being (Atria, 2011)
Note: This book has been recommended to me by many people — including PA trustee Chien Lee and medical director Amy Patel — and I was thrilled to read it. This title is a great way to get up to speed on the “well-being and balance” issue that is likely to be a component of our strategic plan. This book builds on the life’s work on Seligman, whose work on happiness he has updated here based on lots of new science and serious rethinking.
Daniel J. Siegel, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain (Tarcher, 2014)
Note: As the parent of a twelve-year-old, I started out reading this book because I saw that he defined the “teenage brain” as stretching from ages 12 to 24. I am taken by the value that neuroscience has to offer us as teachers in a residential school. Siegel’s insights about brain development, risk-taking, sexuality, and other central ideas are well-described and ultimately compelling.
Part II: The Sex Ed List
The Sex Education Working Group compiled the following list, including additional resources to guide in further exploration of teenage sex and sexuality.
Jennifer Finney Boylan, She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders (Broadway Books, 2003)
Note: To help students understand the experience of wrestling with gender as well as the importance of talking to and listening to the people you love. Boylan has served as an English professor at Colby College for the past twenty-five years.
Heather Corinna, S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College (Da Capo Press, 2007)
Note: This may be a bit more “technical” and less theoretical but it is likely to resonate with students.
Robie Harris, It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health (Candlewick Press, 2009)
Note: This book avoids needless density and jargon, and is straight to the point with a light narrative touch, and vivid, but not gratuitous illustrations of the wide range of human bodies, their sexual capacities, and how to use those capacities safely, wisely, and with fulfillment.
Link to PDF of excerpts from the book:
Nikol Hasler, Sex: A Book for Teens: An Uncensored Guide to Your Body, Sex and Safety (Zest Books, 2010)
Note: Like It’s Perfectly Normal (above), this text may be a bit more “technical” and less theoretical, but is likely to resonate with students.
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Random House, 2009)
Note: To help students not only understand gender dynamics but also the sexual health and reproductive challenges (violence, sex trade, use of rape for war and intimidation, lack of access to birth control, dating stigma, pregnancy mortality and morbidity) of adolescents and young women in developing countries. Perhaps exposing our students to the sexual health dynamics and challenges of their global peers not only increases their awareness and empathy but also empowers students’ self efficacy and personal responsibility around sex and sexual health.
C.J. Pascoe, Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School (University of California Press, 2007, 2012)
Note: (A repeat on both lists, described here by the sex-ed team): This is a bold ethnographic study of the performance of masculinity at a public high school. The author’s observations are vivid. She does a good job explaining how “fag” is a word that polices masculinity — it is a gendered and racialized term that now has a larger meaning than simply “gay.” It’s a good book, and it does concern sexuality, but it’s not precisely about sexuality either.
Debbie Roffman, Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ “Go To” Person About Sex (Da Capo Press, 2012)
Note: It is geared towards the parent audience, and perhaps the House Counselor audience. The author works with the independent school population, is a long-time sex educator, and has some real-world scenarios in the book that might assist in house counseling. It is unlikely to be engaging for a student.
Dan Savage and Terry Miller, It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living (Penguin, 2011)
Note: In terms of LGBT, the It Gets Better Project which began on YouTube in response to the youth suicides in 2010, sends messages to teens to help them believe that their lives will improve. This is a recently published book with the same title.
Ritch C. Savin-Williams, The New Gay Teenager (First Harvard University Press, 2006)
Note: Williams discusses how LGBT teens find the labels of previous generations static and stifling. They may not categorize themselves as their LGBT forebears did, and they may be less interested in labels, period. It’s an interesting read, but it’s also somewhat on the academic side and stats-driven (study of studies).
Out of the Blue: A CAMD Student Project (Phillips Academy, 2014)
Note: Among many other topics, this is a great resource for sexual identity/orientation.
In addition, the Sex Education Working Group compiled the following list of websites as helpful resources:
Note: The It’s Your Sex Life Guide is part of an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning public information campaign partnership between the Kaiser Family Foundation and MTV to support young people in making responsible decisions about their sexual health. The site focuses on preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases and reducing unintended pregnancy.
Note: The Respect Yourself Campaign is a UK based partnership between Warwickshire County Council and Coventry University designed to engage with young people around issues of relationships and sex, especially the areas in which young people are lacking from contemporary school-based RSE (relationships and sex education). RespectYourself.org is place where young people can safely explore their emerging sexuality, without judgment and a place where they can ask questions and receive open and honest answers.
Note: Sexetc.org is a comprehensive sex ed resource by teens, for teens. This peer-to-peer communication site is monitored and run though Answer, the national sexuality education organization based at Rutgers University. The website provides information about relationships, sex, LGBTQ, biology, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, birth control, and abuse and violence.
Note: The American Psychological Association (APA) hosts a trustworthy website that addresses many topics in psychology. This site reviews articles as resources to guide or instruct work with students, parents, and faculty members. This website often includes recent and up to date sources of intervention as well as pertinent data.
Note: The National Association of School Psychologist (NASP) also integrates research and data regarding psychological topics and has helpful handouts available.
Note: The above link hosted by The University of Texas at Austin represents a comprehensive set of resources addressing sexual assault, rejection, relationships, dating violence, sexual consent, and healthy sexuality.
Note: From the American Academy of Pediatrics, this website has short content on a wide range of sexual health topics for adolescents and parents, and is updated regularly.
Note: For quick answers to quick sexual health questions that our students ask regularly.
Note: This website includes current statistics to stay on top of trends and includes data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey. This gives access to all of the data available nationally, and you can sort it by a number of variables (geography, specific “risk” question, year, grade, race/ethnicity, etc).