Each term as head of school at Phillips Academy, I’ve put out a series of books for the faculty to enjoy. Colleagues are free to keep the books, pass them along to others, or bring them back to the bookshelf in the head of school’s office. I choose titles that relate in one way or another to the mission of our school and conversations underway on our campus. I thought I’d post the list for all three terms at once this year:
Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014) (this book appeared on a previous HOS Bookshelf as careful watchers of this space will recall; Prof. Rankine spoke at Andover in January as part of our MLK, Jr., Day celebration)
Last academic year I kept up my tradition of putting out free copies of books on a bookshelf outside my office each term for the faculty to take and read but I didn’t manage to post the lists here on this blog as I went along. (Not that anyone complained!) I thought I’d put the lists out all at once before we launch into a new school year.
Note: Prof. Duckworth visited with Tang Institute fellows and staff last Fall and will be back again on September 13 for a public engagement at PA. We expect to make many copies of her book available again courtesy of one of our trustees.
Note: Astute observers will know that Mr. Coates’ book appeared on a previous HOS bookshelf. It flew off the shelf at the time. I brought it back again as it was meant to be the subject of a town-wide reading program this spring.
This Spring term, I’m putting out on the bookshelf outside the Head of School’s office copies of the following books for the Andover faculty. The idea is that the books can go and stay home, come back to the bookshelf, or end up as a gift to someone else. The Spring, 2016 list includes:
Sarah Bakewell, At the Existentialist Café.This book is not of the sort that I often include on this list — which tends to be focused on matters of education, child development, and digital media — but I read it over Spring break and hugely enjoyed it. Ms. Bakewell takes the reader on a jaunt through the lives of leading existentialists, beginning early in the 20th century and extending through the end of the life of Simone de Beauvoir, one of the main characters. There’s a fair amount of resonance with current cultural and political debates in the themes she takes up. Anyone who read the existentialists as a young person and was intrigued will enjoy coming back to them via this book. The story is a blend of the lives of the philosophers and the way in which the author (Bakewell) experienced their works. It’s a lot of fun.
Jeff Hobbs, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace. Such a powerful, sad story. A précis can be found in this New York Times review. Those of us who work in academic settings that seek to bring together talented young people from everywhere (“youth from every quarter,” in our charter), the issues that this narrative raises are essential to consider. Actually, anyone who lives in America should read this book and consider the hard issues that this account of Mr. Peace’s life and death pose for us as a society.
Jessica Lahey, The Gift of Failure. Ms. Lahey takes aim at how many of us parent and educate today — and tells us that we need to let our students fail more often. This book is in line with many of the faculty meeting conversations we have at Andover, as we consider how we can support all our students in both their successes and their inevitable adolescent failures. As young people perceive they need to be “perfect” to get into their “dream schools” for college, the job of enabling them to fail safely and recover well is increasingly important. Though not entirely new as a message, readers will enjoy Lahey’s perspective as a middle-school teacher, someone on the front lines of this ongoing debate about how best to raise a generation.
Chang-Rae Lee, Native Speaker. I seek to include at least one work of fiction on each Head of School bookshelf list. This novel is a few decades old (1995); it still resonates in terms of the cultural issues it raises, and it holds up well as an enduring work of fiction worthy of study in its own right. Our English teachers at Andover often teach it. The characters are beautifully wrought. And the use of language (itself a theme in the book) is lovely.
Liz Murray, Breaking Night.This book is not new, either (2006) — and many will have seen the made-for-TV special about Ms. Murray’s life. The story is both challenging and uplifting. For those of us in boarding schools that have students from every socio-economic bracket, some of the lessons in this book are hugely important. There are many powerful messages in this first-person account of an extraordinary life, written by a young person early in her career. (Murray’s book is paired with the book about Robert Peace, above, in terms of the challenges faced by those who bridge cultural gaps in coming to elite educational institutions.) With a h/t to my colleague Heidi Jamieson at Andover for passing along a copy of the book last term.
Leonard Sax, The Collapse of Parenting. Dr. Sax is a practicing physician and author who writes based on his long experience seeing patients and advising families. His latest book, The Collapse of Parenting, quickly hit the best-seller list when it came out a few months ago. I admired his previous book about Girls on the Edge (including on a previous HOS bookshelf list). Some parents and educators will love his no-nonsense approach; others will consider it too confining. The book is easy to read and prompts important discussion. (I’ve paired it on this list with the Lahey book, above.)
As usual, I’m also putting out additional copies of books by recent speakers on campus. Two of these: danah boyd’s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (on a previous HOS bookshelf list) and Moustafa Bayoumi, This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror, both well worth the read.
Links to a few recent lists: here (mostly on tech and sexuality), here (innovation), here (teaching, talent, and testing), here (fiction), and here (a mix, as this Spring’s is, too).
For the cozy Sundays in New England, with snow lying all around (as it is this morning in Andover, MA), here’s the line-up of books I have put out on the Head of School bookshelf for faculty at Phillips Academy:
Katie Cappiello and Meg McInerney, Slut: A Play and Guidebook for Combating Sexism and Sexual Violence. The cast of “Slut” performed on the Phillips Academy campus for our students, faculty, staff, and parents last month. They were astonishing. As we educators and parents all grapple with how to contend with sexual violence, ongoing changes in adolescent culture, and the power of both silence and speaking up, this work is powerful.
Michael B. Horn & Heather Staker, Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. I am a believer in a future of education that connects the traditional, offline mode of teaching and learning with the best aspects of the online, often informal modes. This book is a helpful resource for those interested in what a blend of the disruptive with the tried-and-true could look like.
Henry Jenkins, Mizuko Ito, and danah boyd, Participatory Culture in a Networked Era. This book is fun: the experience is of listening in on a dinner-party conversation between three of the leading scholars of the digital age. In an interactive way, they each reflect on the work they’ve done in this fast-changing field and on what they think is most salient about it. I make it a point to read just about everything they write. Here, they are all together in a single text.
Janice Y.K. Lee, The Expatriates. Before my last Head of School Bookshelf, a faculty colleague at Andover challenged me to add fiction to the mix, so I’m planning to include at least one each time. I chose Janice Lee’s second novel for the expatriate experience it describes. The themes will sound familiar to those who have lived abroad or whose children are living abroad — say, at a boarding school. Pair it with Lee’s first novel, The Piano Teacher, for a great education on Hong Kong expat life between the end of the second World War and today. Maggie Pouncey, writing in The New York Times Book Review, called Lee “a female, funny Henry James in Asia.”
A few times a year, I share a booklist with the Phillips Academy faculty and offer up copies of the selections on a bookshelf outside my office. I’m going with an all-fiction Head of School bookshelf for Fall, 2015. Last Spring, a faculty colleague suggested that I try a fiction list next, because that might encourage participation by those who might have found my non-fiction-heavy (not exclusively non-fiction, but mostly…) lists in the past a bit dense. That was all the encouragement I needed — and it also meant that my summer reading inclined more toward fiction than it ordinarily does.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (Anchor Books, 2013). Adichie’s novel about identity, race, love, and learning has been showered with praise and awards — for good reason. It’s a wonderful, funny novel and also full of insights about topics we talk about all the time at Andover.
Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner, 2014). With a special nod to the history faculty and students, I chose Doerr’s account of lives during occupied France for reasons similar to the choice of Americanah. It’s truly engaging fiction that also presents a human story with many lessons about empathy, love, and understanding.
Johanna Lane, Black Lake (Little, Brown, 2014). We are so excited to have Johanna Lane with us at Andover as our Writer in Residence and Instructor in English at Andover. She’s written a masterful novel about a family handling loss of multiple forms. Lane writes beautifully — a great inspiration to all Andover students (not to mention those of us on the faculty who try to write, too!).
Tobias Wolff, Old School (Vintage, 2003). I was tempted to list A Separate Peace here, even though it’s (a) quite old and (b) famously about Exeter. I figured that might be a step too far back toward my own alma mater, so I decided on a more recent novel very much in the genre of A Separate Peace, but less likely to be based on Exeter and more intriguing in some respects (at least, on p. 168, there’s a reference to Exeter that makes it plain that the school depicted is another school). It’s a great story and introduces a whole pile of the themes we struggle with (and often overcome!) every day in boarding school. It’s also about writing, literature, and competition among boys — lots of fun.
Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese (Square Fish, 2006). I wanted to include on this list a novel that takes an inventive form of some sort, and Yang’s story about Asian identity in America (among many other things) fits that bill. It’s a clever, engaging graphic novel about assimilation, difference, and the perils of growing up in America today. Warning to those easily offended: it is edgy and most certainly un-PC in parts; that’s what makes it worth reading, actually, to my mind.
I find it hard to limit myself to five selections for a Head of School bookshelf, so I tend to cheat and add some “additional selections.” These choices happen to be non-fiction, and failed to make the official list solely for that reason.
David Brooks, The Road to Character (Random House, 2015). You may have read parts of this book in Brooks’ New York Times column and elsewhere over the last year. The full book adds to the texts that were published elsewhere; gets you thinking about Resume Virtues vs. Eulogy Virtues in new ways.
Lani Guinier, The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America(Beacon Press, 2015). Both when I was a student and then as a faculty member at Harvard Law School, I admired very much the scholarship and teaching of Prof. Guinier. Everything I’ve read of hers has been highly worthwhile, including her most recent book on what we mean when we talk about “meritocracy” in the context of education — a big theme as we went through strategic planning at Andover.
Tony Wagner & Ted Dintersmith, Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era (Simon & Schuster, 2015). Two of the most forward-thinking people I’ve met have come together to write a book on innovation and education. Both Wagner and Dintersmith have visited Andover recently and left us with much to contemplate. Their book challenges all of us in education to press forward faster and with more ambition. Worthy text to engage with, from start to finish; they pose lots of hard questions. They also have a documentary out of the same name, which is inspiring.
Fareed Zakaria, In Defense of a Liberal Education (W.W. Norton, 2015). I loved this book as a step away from the day-to-day conversations about teaching and learning. Zakaria’s text brings the reader to a higher plain about the point of education and how we go about it, in conversation with contemporary work such as Andrew Delbanco‘s College, which I included on a previous list.
This week, I am putting a pile of copies of each of these books out for the faculty on the bookshelf outside my office, free for the taking, and I encourage those from afar to get copies at your local independent bookstore or library, if you are interested. I’d love to hear what you think of them.
The long flights to and from East Asia this Spring Break afforded time to catch up on a stack of books I’ve been meaning to read for a while. For this Spring’s Head of School bookshelf, I’ve selected a series of titles focused on psychology and policy relevant to the secondary school field in education. There’s a lot of great work that’s been done in the recent past and some new books highly worth reading.
Spring 2015 List: Teaching, Talent, and Testing
Daniel Coyle, The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. (Bantam, 2009). Published a few years ago, this book examines the question of how to develop talent. Coyle considers the question that has probably occurred to most everyone at some point: how is it that some communities, at some moments of time, produce a disproportionate number of geniuses or other types of extremely high performers? Coyle examines the conditions necessary to produce “greatness” at a collective level (or “hotbeds”, including in schools, as he calls them). He also considers the specific commitments of individuals necessary to reach high potential and to help others reach high potential. This book considers academic success of the ordinary sort, but also athletic, musical, and artistic prowess, among other areas of growth. Coyle also keeps up a website with lots of good examples — such as the practice routine of Odell Beckham Jr. — that illustrate his point.
Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (Random House, 2014). Along similar lines to Coyle’s book, Duhigg takes up the question of how habits are formed, broken, and reformed. Though perhaps more geared toward a business audience than toward educators per se, the premise is highly relevant to us at teachers. How do students (or adults) learn to learn? What is the cycle by which habits are formed, which lead to effective learning? There’s a good section on Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott (chapter 8), which leads to a discussion of how movements come about (relevant to the section of US History I am teaching this year!).
Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Ballantine, 2007). Prof. Dweck’s crucial book on the growth mindset is not new, but it is as good and relevant as ever. At Andover, many of our faculty are focused on how we can promote and develop a growth mindset among our students. Prof. Dweck is joining us in early May, 2015, as a guest of the new Tang Institute and to speak to our faculty. Prof. Dweck also posts more information on mindsets on a helpful website. The book and the website are both very clear and well-written, with loads of specific examples for how to understand and deploy her findings.
Dana Goldstein, The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession(Doubleday, 2014). This book, which came out last year, is a terrific history of 175 years of the teaching profession. (If we do not learn our history, we are bound to repeat it, right?) Journalist and author Goldstein gives a strong sense of who has gone into the teaching profession, especially in America, and why; what has happened to teachers and the teaching profession during several key periods in American history; and how we might empower teachers in the future. (Side-note: Goldstein includes some interesting observations of the role of faith and gender in education, both of which are important, much-debated topics on our campus today.)
Anya Kamenetz, The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing — But You Don’t Have To Be (Public Affairs, 2015). Everyone is talking about testing these days. It’s a great blessing at Andover not to worry about “teaching to the test,” but our society at large seems testing-obsessed — and our students, of course, take plenty of standardized tests along the way. This account, by NPR journalist and author Anya Kamenetz, takes both an historical view and one that points us to a future that doesn’t have to be all about high-stakes testing. It’s a very timely and interesting book, and we have an invitation out to the author to encourage her to come to campus soon, too.
Special Mentions: Other Fascinating New Books — not all exactly on the topic of the list, but included as recommendations:
Eric Foner, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad (Norton, 2015). Prof. Foner, of Columbia University, is a truly great US historian of Reconstruction and other 19th century themes. I’ve been teaching from his college-level textbook (“Give Me Liberty!”) for my section of US history at Andover this year; it’s very good. This new history of the Underground Railroad includes several stories never before told in a major book, and draws on archival material that was certainly new to me, and will be to virtually all readers.
Martin Ford, Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (Basic Books, 2015). Written by a computer software developer, this book examines the question of the effect of Moore’s Law (the premise that computing power doubles every 18 to 24 months) on the labor market. What kinds of jobs might our kids expect to have during their lifetimes? How much skill will be required for various tasks in a world where artificial intelligence has continued to increase at an exponential rate each year? As educators, it is worth our giving these hard questions some thought.
Susan Greenfield: Mind Change: How Digital Technologies Are Leaving Their Mark on Our Brains (Random House, 2015). A renowed UK neuroscientist, Dr. Greenfield explores whether our “minds” (not our “brains”, as she stresses at the start of chapter 12) are changing as a result of our vast social media usage and other digital stimuli. The answer is surely “yes,” but with an important call to all of us to define what we want out of the digital revolution and to aim ourselves toward it. I like her “balanced and comprehensive overview of the scientific research” (Preface, XV) into this important area.
Carrie James, Disconnected: Youth, New Media, and the Ethics Gap (MIT Press, 2014). From Carrie James, the Good Play Project, and the excellent Digital Media and Learning series at MIT Press comes this new book on kids and their development with respect to ethics in the digital world. James draws on her deep research experience as well as new conversations with kids aged 10 to 25 to bring us up to speed on their thinking about privacy, property, and participation online. She covers important well-known cases (e.g., Tyler Clementi) as well as examples of the “ethics gap” that have been less extensively covered.
Ron Lieber, The Opposite of Spoiled: Raising Kids Who Are Grounded, Generous, and Smart About Money (Harper Collins, 2015). I loved this book: it’s filled with super-practical, serious advice for how to raise our kids with respect to their relationship with money. My own kids have already started the system that Lieber recommends (jars for “Give,” “Save,” and “Spend”) and the advice from him and other parents on his Facebook page is terrific. Lieber is a journalist with the New York Times who covers personal finance. He’s agreed to join us in the fall at Andover as a guest speaker.
Please consider buying each of these titles at your local independent bookstore. I bought the copies for the Head of School bookshelf, (in my office, where faculty can come get them anytime), from the Andover Bookstore in Andover, MA.
On October 17, 2014, we are launching the Andover Institute at Phillips Academy. The Institute will be a hub for innovation at PA, where our students, faculty, and others come together to explore new ideas in teaching and learning at the secondary school level. The idea is to have a “Bell Labs” here at Andover that will help improve learning on our campus and beyond. Congratulations to Caroline Nolan, Trish Russell, Eric Roland, and all those who have worked very hard to prepare this new initiative.
Inspired by this upcoming launch, I devote this fall’s Head of School Bookshelf to recent books on innovation and its application to how we learn. As with previous versions of this list, it’s not meant to be exhaustive, but instead a series of pointers to books I’ve read recently and especially enjoyed. (On campus, for faculty at PA, I make a stack of copies of each book available outside my office; also, we partner with our friends at the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library to make multiple copies available to everyone in the community. As ever, I encourage trips to your local independentbookstore to buy copies, too!)
We revere innovation. And today, there’s great promise for innovations in teaching and learning. But do we really know how it comes about? These five authors take a crack at explaining how innovation works, from various angles. Three of the books are about innovation, fairly broadly conceived (Isaacson, Gertner, and Shenk). The other two are focused on learning and how the brain works (Carey and Brown et al.).
Walter Isaacson, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution (Simon & Schuster, 2014). There is no one writing today who understands the human side of the technology revolution better than Walter Isaacson (author of the epic, blockbuster Steve Jobs biography and president of the Aspen Institute, among many other accomplishments). His sweeping history of the digital revolution is packed with insights about how we got to the digital present and who deserves the credit along the way. For purposes of this list, Isaacson also reveals many lessons about how these innovations took place at such a break-neck speed, which continues unabated today. To his credit, Isaacson also goes out of his way to unearth untold stories about the female pioneers of the too-often-male-dominated field of information and communications technologies (something I have not done well in assembling this list, I admit).
Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation(Penguin, 2012). Gertner’s book tells a story parallel to Isaacson’s, but its emphasis falls in an earlier era of innovation and on a limited set of actors within a single firm. Bell Labs is often held out as the best example of industrial research and development in the United States during the 20th century; Gertner helps to make that case plain. There are many interesting contrasts to Isaacson’s new book: consider how they each treat William Shockley, co-inventor of the transistor and winner of the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physics.
Joshua Wolf Shenk, Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014). The story of innovation, at least in the case of the digital revolution, has in the past often been reduced to the image of solo inventor in his or her garage, paradigmatically in Silicon Valley. Shenk takes aim at this truism and highlights the power to be found in creative pairs working together toward breakthrough innovation. Think Marie and Pierre Curie; Lennon and McCartney; Jobs and Wozniak and you get the idea. (Not surprisingly, Walter Isaacson wrote one of the blurbs: “We sometimes think of creativity as coming from brilliant loners. In fact, it more often happens when bright people pair up and complement each other. Shenk’s fascinating book shows how to spark the power of this phenomenon.” I agree.)
Benedict Carey, How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why it Happens (Random House, 2014). There is a great outpouring of research about education and how the brain works these days. Carey, who has covered the topic for many years as a journalist, brings us some of the best of that research. He is particularly struck by surprising findings about how to make learning more effective. The New York Times Magazine ran an excerpt recently, under the provocative title: “Why Flunking Exams is Actually a Good Thing.” Carey refers here to the notion that taking an exam at the outset of a course that students are unprepared for can lead to better learning outcomes over the course of a term. The book brings forward a series of similar findings in compelling ways.
Peter Brown, Henry Roediger, and Mark McDaniel, Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (Harvard University/Belknap Press, 2014). In a similar vein, these three authors introduce a whole pile of interesting findings about how the brain works and how learners and teachers can put this science to work day-to-day. I’ve long been a fan of the work of one of the authors — Roddy Roediger — who has been investigating the powers of frequent testing for the purpose of formative, rather than summative, assessment. (Basic idea: it’s a good idea to quiz students frequently, to prompt recall and retention, rather than to rely upon heavyweight, high stakes tests at the end of the term or the year.) This book build out findings of this sort in a highly readable style. I think parents, students, and teachers all might find this book fun and worthwhile.
Though not formally on the list for this fall, a few other things — an eclectic bunch — from my summer reading that I loved and highly recommend:
Benoit Mandelbrot, The Fractalist: Memoir of a Scientific Maverick(Pantheon, 2012). I loved this first-person account of an extraordinary life in science. Mandelbrot’s many breakthrough concepts tended to fall between fields — mathematics, physics, biology, art. His experience in academia, in and out of university settings and corporate R&D labs, points to the risks inherent in a purely discipline-based view of organizing intellectual inquiry. Mandelbrot’s mode of innovation is somewhat in contrast to the team-based approach highlighted in the books above. The New York Times published this review a few years ago, which provides the gist of the book, if you are tempted. Kudos to Doron Weber at the Sloan Foundation who funded the book’s production.
Robert Darnton, Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature(Norton, 2014). Robert Darnton is one of the foremost historians working today. He makes stories from the past come alive in extraordinary ways. In his most recent books, he explores the history of the censor and how he and she has gone about his or her work. Darnton employs the methodology of a comparative historian (easier said than done, as he points out in his introduction), going deep on three case studies of censorship regimes. Darnton’s primary cases are Bourbon France; British India; and Communist East Germany. He frames the entire work in bookends about the current censorship regimes of the Internet era. (In full disclosure: I co-taught a seminar with Professor Darnton on this topic at Harvard University a few years ago. I was far more a student than a teacher for that term, which was both a privilege and a wonderful treat.)
Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Harvard University Press, 2014). I devoted several weeks of reading time this summer to Piketty’s huge book, and I’m glad I did. Throughout the spring, it was hard to avoid the many reviews of Capital and the firestorm of debate it provoked. I figured I should read it so that I could have an informed view on the debate. I found myself agreeing much more than disagreeing with Piketty’s careful, serious look at the perils of the growing gap in income and capital assets in wealthy societies. I am not yet convinced about his primary proposed fix — a global tax on wealth — but, even a few months after finishing the book, I am still trying to work out if I disagree because it’s impractical or because it would in fact be a bad idea for society at large. We ignore the trends to which Piketty directs our attention at our peril. (One clear lesson from his impressive volume of research: world wars matter, a lot.) There’s a terrific Wikipedia entry already about the book.
Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch (Little, Brown, 2013). Also long, also quite wonderful. It’s a beautiful story (one of two works of fiction on my list) of a familiar modern tragedy, a lost work of art, and the lives of a few young people growing up mostly on their own. Worthy of all the attention and awards. Once every ten years, Ms. Tartt seems to come out with a new book, and I’m always glad to see it.
Ian McEwan, The Children Act (Doubleday, 2014). As in the case of Donna Tartt, I find myself reading everything McEwan writes as soon as it comes out, which I suppose I should admit before going further. The Children Act, also a work of fiction, proved to be timely: it explores the journey that adolescents must travel with respect to their faith, something that we are discussing at great length at Phillips Academy. The book touches on many other themes (the role and limits of the law; aging; sex and relationships), but the exploration of faith and its connection to life and death stood out for me.
Zephyr Teachout, Corruption in America (Harvard University Press, 2014). Zephyr Teachout — a law professor and activist I much admire — just ran a spirited and important campaign for Governor of New York. Though she came up short in the primary, she attracted enormous attention and raised central issues of institutional corruption in her run against incumbent Andrew Cuomo. Her book echoes, and builds out, the themes she developed with such skill and resonance during the campaign. One tiny excerpt: “I am trying to bring corruption back. Not as a societal ill. As you have read, we have enough of that already. But as an idea, something we fight and worry about.” That’s how she starts Chapter 16, “The Anticorruption Principle,” p. 276. One of the blurbs is from Lawrence Lessig, whose Republic, Lost is a crucial text in much the same spirit: “Teachout’s beautifully written and powerful book exposes a simple but profound error at the core of the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. FEC decision. The originalists on the Court forgot their history. This is that history — and eventually it will provide the basis for reversing the Court’s critical error.” I’m thinking hard about how to introduce this concept and text into my History 300 course this year, US History for Andover students.
I hope one or more of these books might appeal. (As an aside: as I reflect on this list, I note the several great books published recently by Harvard University Press — bravo!)
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 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: 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: 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: 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.
Tonight in the faculty meeting at Phillips Academy, we will discuss Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi. (Steele is a distinguished social psychologist; former provost of Columbia; now dean of education at Stanford.) It’s an exceptionally good book on many levels, assigned to the full faculty by the Access to Success working group at Andover. The social science he presents about stereotype threat is deep and revealing; the personal narratives are compelling; and the ideas for concrete action at schools are constructive.
Steele’s book should be required reading for anyone who works in a school. More broadly, anyone who cares about the present and future of American democracy should read it. The topics that he takes up — the risks associated with stereotype threat and implications for education, politics, and identity — belong at the top of the list of important issues that we face as a country.
It seems fitting to be having this conversation tonight, on the 50th anniversary of James Meredith’s registration at Ole Miss. Yesterday’s lead story in the New York Times (by Adam Liptak) also highlighted the important new challenge to affirmative action that the United States Supreme Court will hear this term. (From the story: “On Oct. 10, the court will hear Fisher v. University of Texas, No. 11-345, a major challenge to affirmative action in higher education.”) It’s unfortunate that we are still struggling at the level of admissions of diverse communities; the discussion should be much further along than it is today.
Instead of arguing about the rules for admissions and whether our campuses should be truly diverse in the first place, the conversation should be about what schools should do once we have highly diverse communities. This issue is crucial to the future of Andover and our educational program. It’s not enough to admit students from a broad range of backgrounds; it’s essential that we are intentional and effective about how we enable all students to succeed and enjoy their time at schools, including but certainly not limited to Andover.