In my previous job (at Andover), I created a list of a few books every term that we would offer to the faculty as “community reads” on what we called the Head of School’s Bookshelf. We set up a bookshelf in the HOS office and distributed as many copies as faculty would like to read. I’d post that list here on this blog. In a new job (at MacArthur Foundation) and during this pandemic, I realized I missed that tradition. It had the effect of making me reflect on a few of the books I’d read recently.
In the same spirit as the old HOS Bookshelf, as of Fall 2020 in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, here are a few books from the last few months that I particularly got something from:
Ronald Deibert, Reset: Reclaiming the Internet for Civil Society (House of Anansi, 2020) — broad reflections on the present and future of networked technologies, social media, and civil society from the director of the Citizen Lab and professor of political science at University of Toronto (built off Prof. Deibert’s CBC Massey Lectures)
Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (Random House, 2020) — an important, timely reflection on race, economics, and other forms of hierarchy mostly about America and slavery but told through the broad lens of three cultures — described in NYT Book Review as “the keynote nonfiction book of the American century thus far” and “an instant American classic”
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.
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).