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.
P.S.: Pointers to previous Head of School bookshelves: Adolescence, Technology and Sexuality; a set geared toward Secondary School Teachers interested in Learning and Technology; and The Innovation Edition.