Bookshelf: Ideas for Secondary School Teachers, with a Bent Toward the Digital
John Palfrey 2013-09-14
In each of the last two academic years, I’ve made short lists of books I’ve liked, related mostly (but not exclusively) to secondary education and the digital world, to share with the faculty of Phillips Academy. We buy a stack of each of the books, placed on the shelf outside my office, and share them as “community reads.” This list — admittedly eclectic — covers those past two installments, plus a few additional books that have been in circulation on our campus for various reasons.
Fall, 2013 List:
Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald, Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People (Delacorte, 2013)
Why I liked it: I am huge fan of Prof. Banaji’s and her research into our inherent biases. The book is a public-facing version of the research she’s published for years. Especially in intentionally diverse communities, such as schools and universities, it’s my firm view that we all have to be aware of our biases, which can come as a big surprise sometimes, as Banaji and her co-author make clear.
Andrew Delbanco, College: What is Was, Is, and Should Be (Princeton, 2012)
Why I liked it: I am also a fan of Prof. Delbanco’s and his work on American history and literature (dating back to when he taught American studies at Harvard, and through his exciting work at Columbia). Here, he turns to the broad, public issue of what college ought to be. His frame of reference is, in many respects, “the traditional four-year college experience” that looms in the imagination — probably in our students’ imagination, too. Familiar themes of the history and importance of the Pell grant come together with perhaps less familiar themes of the continuing Puritan influence on our communities of learners.
Theodore Sizer, The New American High School (Jossey-Bass, 2013)
Why I liked it: Theodore Sizer is a giant in 20th century educational theory and practice — and also served as Phillips Academy’s distinguished 12th head of school. Nancy Faust Sizer, who wrote the introduction, sent me an early copy, and I hugely enjoyed reading it. Ted Sizer wrote this book and nearly published it before his death; Nancy and their editor brought it to fruition just recently. For those who have read the Horace trilogy, The Students Are Watching Us, The Red Pencil, and other Sizer works, much in this new synthesis will sound familiar and enriching; for those who have not, especially those new to Sizer’s ideas in general, it is a great introduction to his life’s work, which continues to have reverberations through our Academy today. (I have in mind a present-day Andover update to the short chapter, the ninth, on Technology.)
Why I liked it: This book came out several years ago, and I’ve been meaning to read it since then; I finally managed it this summer. It’s an amazing synthesis of hundreds of studies of how the brain works, especially with respect to reading, by a Tufts prof, Maryanne Wolf, who specializes in early childhood education. I learned an enormous amount from Wolf’s book, in terms of history, practice, and neuroscientific findings. The emphasis falls on younger kids than ours, but the implications for our student body are clear — especially for those students who start out with less in terms of parents reading to them, encouraging them to read, and so forth at an early age.
Paul Yoon, Snow Hunters (Simon & Shuster, 2013)
Why I liked it: How could I not? Paul Yoon, this year’s writer-in-residence at Phillips Academy, has written a brand-new, engaging, beautifully crafted novel. I wished it had gone on much longer! (For those who want to keep reading beyond the end of Snow Hunters, Paul’s first book, Once the Shore, is a collection of eight exquisite stories.) His recent positive NYTimes Book Review piece, along with much else in the way of positive critical review, have been well-earned.
Why I liked it: “Liked” in a way is the wrong word — this is a hard book, on a hard topic — but Dr. Sax has written an effective, constructive, important look at a large segment of our population in a boarding school, and it’s relevant to our entire population here. I especially recommend it for those working in a girls’ dorm or coaching a girls’ team, though I think everyone in a residential learning community would benefit from reading it.
Catherine Steiner-Adair: The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age (Harper, 2013)
Why I liked it: Catherine Steiner-Adair is a former colleague of ours at Phillips Academy, as school psychologist (which she references on p. 253!). Her new book is a helpful contribution to the literature about parenting and kids growing up in a digital era, with emphasis on social and family relationships. (Steiner-Adair is already booked as a speaker for “Wellness Week” later in our academic year at Phillips Academy.)
Why I liked it: This book is a wonderful look at the implications of the digital age, from a global perspective. Ethan Zuckerman is a former colleague of mine at the Berkman Center, now on the faculty at MIT, and is one of the finest minds in my field (and one of the finest people you’ll ever meet). He’s worked on this book for years, and his devotion has paid off, in the form of both many new insights and lots of great narratives about life as a “digital cosmopolitan.” (I admit, it’s not as obvious fit on this list for secondary school teachers, but I couldn’t help myself — and I really do think any teacher will get a lot from it in terms of what we should be aspiring to do in teaching about global citizenship, ethics, and morality in the biggest sense of the terms.) See @ethanz just about everywhere, including Twitter.
Spring, 2013 List:
Why I liked it: Lots of great material about how learning happens, from a brain science and generally interdisciplinary point of view. Among many other things, she puts Katie Salen’s work — which we examined last year at PA and continue to follow — in context, p. 87 ff. Cathy’s work is controversial and provocative — in a very good way. If you ever have a chance to hear her present, take it!
Why I liked it: The furthest afield from education per se of the books on this list, but it’s a great theoretical look at the importance of networks and network design. Consider his argument about the capacity for reinvention, p. 119, ff. Steven is a clever, concise writer — and everything he’s published is worth thinking about, in my experience. The book is beautifully written and concise; secondary school teachers will likely get an interesting perspective on the future from it.
Why I liked it: If you think you know Sal Khan and Khan Academy based on what you’ve seen on his web site, think again. This is a very impressive, thoughtful book, about education broadly conceived. His ideas and recommendations encompass his core work of “putting great short videos and exercises on the web for millions of people to use” (which is, itself, very cool) and extend far beyond it. Sal and his team are pretty amazing — we at PA are actively collaborating with them on, which has been incredibly interesting — and I think very well of his new book.
Why I liked it: I’m generally a big fan of Tony’s work, so I was not surprised to like this new book. Along with his book on the Global Achievement Gap, this book leans forward and into lots of important trends and opportunities in education. I liked Chapter 5: Innovating Learning in particular. Though it may be more focused on higher ed than on the secondary school environment, he applies lessons from terrific learning institutions, like the MIT Media Lab (pp. 181-4), to teaching and learning more broadly.
A few more, to close out this list:
Here are a last few that many of us read on the Phillips Academy campus, on related themes and in various contexts:
Why I liked it: This book is an updated look at many of the issues that Urs Gasser and I took up in Born Digital, by a young and insightful author.)
Clay Christensen et al., Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (McGraw-Hill, 2008)
Why I liked it: Whether you agree with the conclusions or not, this book is a must-read for anyone thinking about education and business models — which should be all of us interested in the future of teaching, learning, the profession, and the related institutions.)
Why I liked it: I loved this creative, expansive book about personhood and identity in a digital age, by a prof and researcher I much admire, on MIT Press’s cool list of books in this field.
Why I liked it: Prof. Dweck’s work continues to inspire about how to encourage young people as learners, especially those who are smart and need to focus on a “growth mindset” rather than to rest of the laurels of their natural gifts and socio-economic advantages.
Why I liked it: The issues that this book takes up are hard, especially in schools with long and proud histories. Again in the “whether or not you agree” category — and this book evokes strong feelings — this first-person account, and associated reflections, by Prof. Khan of his experience at St. Paul’s School has caught the attention of both students and faculty in various courses and contexts. It has been a big conversation-starter about community, race, class, and other big themes in residential secondary schools.
Why I liked it: At PA, a group of faculty assigned this book as the “community read” last summer, to tee up our first faculty meeting on stereotype threat. The book worked extremely well as a scene-setter for a conversation that continues to lead to policy-changes and discussions about how we teach and learn.
Why I liked it: Prof. Watkins brings great insight to the challenges and opportunities of growing up in a digital era; his work is much worth following in general, and this book is highly enjoyable in particular.