Recent Books: on Adolescence, Technology, Sexuality, and More

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:

http://illinoisfamily.org/110files/uploads/2013/05/Its-Perfectly-Normal.pdf

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:

http://www.itsyoursexlife.com

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.

http://www.respectyourself.info

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.

http://answer.rutgers.edu/page/sexetc_website/

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.

http://www.apa.org/

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.

http://www.nasponline.org/search.aspx?cx=000162660937375218598:1mbxeeud2d0&cof=FORID%3A9&q=teen%20sexuality

Note: The National Association of School Psychologist (NASP) also integrates research and data regarding psychological topics and has helpful handouts available.

http://www.cmhc.utexas.edu/commonconcerns.html

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.

http://www.healthychildren.org/

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.

http://kidshealth.org/PageManager.jsp?lic=48&cat_id=20014&ps=203#cat20017

Note: For quick answers to quick sexual health questions that our students ask regularly.

http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/yrbs/index.htm?s_cid=tw_cdc16

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).

The next thing Silicon Valley needs to disrupt big time: its own culture

jgpalfrey:

Fascinating reflection on diversity and Silicon Valley culture.

Originally posted on Quartz:

There’s a problem with Silicon Valley and the subcultures that imitate it. It’s a design bug woven into people’s identities and sense of self-worth. Influential and otherwise very smart people will deny till their last breath that it even exists. But I believe it does and should be fixed before it gets any worse.

Since credentials are so important these days, here are mine. I’m a programmer, and a good one. I’ve worked at several companies that went on to be acquired and one that IPO-ed. I’ve founded companies and conducted hundreds of interviews. I’ve written well-respected books, am regularly invited to speak, and have been honored by the White House. I’ve devised novel ways to optimize billion-dollar computer clusters. You’ve almost certainly run code that I wrote.

My résumé wouldn’t get past an initial screen if I were starting my career today.

About 20 years ago I enrolled in a dropout-prevention program…

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We’re now part of the DPLA

jgpalfrey:

So excited to welcome the Cambridge Public Library to the Digital Public Library of America!

Originally posted on The Cambridge Room:

Untitled-2

The Cambridge Public Library is now officially part of the Digital Public Library of America or as it is informally called DPLA.  The Cambridge City Directories are now available at the DPLA.  As we digitize more and more historical materials, we’ll add more items to the DPLA.

You can search the Cambridge Public Library’s collection here.  The DPLA has a nice timeline feature that you can search here.

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Learning in the World: Global, Community-Based, and Experiential Opportunities

As the Phillips Academy trustees are arriving for a spring weekend, we’ve been talking with a few alums and parents about our plans for the Andover Institute.  One of the three areas of focus involves expanding the global learning opportunities we offer to our students, coming together as ideas here:

Learning in the World: Global, Community-Based, and Experiential Opportunities.

The overall Institute plan is shaping up here.  We are targeting a launch likely in November, 2014.  Stay tuned!

Master Class with Chris Hughes, Phillips Academy ’02 on Hannah Arendt’s “Responsibility and Judgment”

We have the great privilege today of Chris Hughes‘ visit to Andover.  Chris graduated from Phillips Academy in 2002.  He returns today to teach a master-class with me, to give the All School Meeting address, and to meet with various groups on campus.  The master class takes as its starting point a text: Hannah Arendt’s lecture entitled “Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship,” published in the book “Responsibility and Judgment.”  In this lecture, delivered in 1964, Arendt responded to criticism of things she previously wrote about the trial of the Nazi leader Eichmann.  The students in the room today come from two classes, one in our Religion and Philosophy department (taught by Tom Hodgson) and one on bioethics (team-taught by Vincent Avery and Christine Marshall-Walker).

Chris starts the class by asking a student to read aloud a section from near the end of Arendt’s lecture: “The total moral collapse of respectable society during the Hitler regime may teach us that under such circumstances those who cherish values and hold fast to moral norms and standards are not reliable: we now know that moral norms and standards can be changed overnight, and that all that then will be left is the mere habit of holding fast to something.”  Chris asks the group if norms can be changed as quickly as table manners.

The class also focuses for most of the discussion on the role of non-participants in societies.  Arendt says that “the nonparticipants; called irresponsible by the majority, were the only ones who dared judge by themselves.”  Does opting-out of a society enable you to preserve your values?  What does it mean, in fact, to “opt out” of a society?  The class debates whether it is different to opt out of Nazi Germany; America during the McCarthy era; Apartheid South Africa (was Albie Sachs right that only a few hundred whites took any personal risk in resisting the Apartheid regime?); and today, in the “consumerist” society prevalent in most countries in Western Europe and North America, for instance.

Chris stresses the difficulty of total opting out: it is almost impossible not to be ensconced in a body politic.  It is extremely hard not to pay some taxes to support a system; to be, at a minimum, a bystander to important events in the lives of others; to have a voice in the society, whether in public or in private.

We explored the distinction between non-participation and non-obedience.  The students are not sold on the extent to which Arendt praises the non-participants, seeing non-obedience — more actively opposing a system — as essential to positive change.  The text splices the difference between “supporting” a regime and “obeying” it.  The exposure of this tension, which comes in at the end of the essay, may be the most important point.

One of our core jobs as teachers at Phillips Academy, as stated in our school’s constitution from 1778, is to help develop not just the minds but also the morals of the students in our care.  Conversations, such as the one led by Chris today and others led by our faculty on every day on campus, are essential aspects of this kind of an education.

Happy 1st Birthday, DPLA!

The Digital Public Library of America is one year old!  We launched in April, 2013 after a few years of planning and barnstorming the country for ideas, inspiration, and volunteers. While we postponed the launch celebration due to the tragic Marathon bombing that same week just outside the Boston Public Library, the site — at http://dp.la — went live, on time and on budget. (I wrote about the launch on this blog here.)  The first year has been a lot of hard work and a ton of fun.

The progress report for year one, posted officially here, is excellent. Led by executive director Dan Cohen and a very impressive team that is now eight strong, the DPLA has grown to include more than 7,000,000 objects (more than triple what we started with).  These images, texts, books, and more come from all 50 states in the country.  The number of partners grows every month, with nearly a third of all states boasting on-ramps to the DPLA (which we call “service hubs”) and thousands of major institutions participating in digitizing and sharing materials online. The pace of growth is terrific: demand to join the DPLA as a content provider far outstrips our ability to bring the materials in, which bodes well for future growth. Usage through the website and especially the open API continues to grow, with more than 1,000,000 people who have used the site directly and close to 10,000,000 API calls. Over time, those numbers should grow markedly, too. Mike Kelley of Publishers Weekly did a great round-up piece on the first year results.  The team has a fitting and wonderful new home at the Boston Public Library, one of the effort’s early and sustaining partners.

In recent months, two additional major funders have joined the coalition by making promising new grants. Announced at the DPLAFest in the fall, the Gates Foundation has made a grant to enable the DPLA to work directly with public librarians around the country on professional development and usage of the DPLA as an innovative platform. The Mellon Foundation has made a new grant this past month to support the study of sustainability models for this ambitious, nation-sized initiative. The core funders, led by the Sloan Foundation and including the IMLS, the NEH, Knight Foundation (disclosure: I am its board chair), the Soros Foundation, Arcadia Fund, and others have been consistently helpful and have made the effort into a true public-private partnership to support libraries and innovation for the digital era. Key partners, such as the Hathi Trust, Internet Archive, and the National Archives among many others, continue to be essential parts of the puzzle.  The New York Public Library has been an amazing partner of late, doubling down by adding in its entire digital collections to the DPLA’s mix.

As the DPLA’s board chair, I have on my mind a few additional challenges when it comes to year two. As with any start-up, the maintenance of momentum is essential. In the lead up to the launch, when the idea was still completely new and fresh, the DPLA attracted the involvement of more than 1,000 people through various outreach mechanisms. Now that the DPLA is into a building and doing mode, the trick will be to ensure that the same inclusive spirit drives us forward. The new Community Reps program is off to a highly promising start. The meetings all continue to be open and volunteers of all sorts most welcome. The DPLA community needs to keep growing in order to thrive, even as we have to have heads-down to keep up with the interest in participating — a great problem to have.

A second topic is the growth of the eBooks question. The DPLA includes more than a million books, but there are many more that could be included. As the growth of eBook adoption grows, and as the importance to libraries, publishers, and readers grows, the DPLA is working on its strategy for being a part of a positive future in this respect. There are many possible roles to play; despite the amount on our plate already, and the desire to get to 50 state hubs and other pre-existing goals, an answer to this question will be important in this coming year and beyond.

Finally, I remain struck by the importance of making the DPLA a national-scale enterprise, and also part of an international effort, to support libraries and their users as we transition to a digital era. I am delighted at the continued private support for this national effort, mostly from a growing group of major foundations, whose leaders, including Doron Weber at Sloan Foundation, see the importance of this work and have committed to it financially.

What puzzles me is why, even after a successful launch and proof of the demand for this service, the public-sector support for DPLA is limited to a few (essential and wonderful) federal institutions.  Our stalwart partners include the National Archives, the Smithsonian, IMLS, and the NEH, who have been there since the inception of this idea.  Today, the GPO has joined the effort officially, which is huge and positive news.

Now, I am not so naive as to imagine that the Congress would all of a sudden recognize the need for America to have a digital library system and decide to fund its scaling up, as great as that might be. But for all the Washington talk of the “importance of public-private partnerships”, I would have imagined that more government entities with unique content and funders would be jumping up to join with the private sector in this public-spirited enterprise. In my cynical moments, I have a sense that “public-private partnership” means a suggestion by government that the private sector ought to go and do those things that the public sector is not getting done. Perhaps in year two and beyond the public side will grow more than it has in year one. It is never too late to join this particular party.

My primary sensation at the end of year one for the DPLA is of deep gratitude for the partnership and friendship of those who have joined together, as volunteers in the public interest, to get this important endeavor and to the crack staff who are devoting their professional life to getting it off the ground.  Dan Cohen and his team on the ground are doing amazing work to build the DPLA for a sustainable, exciting future.

Remarks for Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration 2014 at Andover

I am glad to see you all back here, safe and sound, in Cochran Chapel so that we can look ahead, look to the kind of community that we want to build.  We come together today to celebrate both community and diversity, the pillars of what sets Phillips Academy apart – a school proudly built of youth and faculty from every quarter, a student body that comes from dozens of countries and nearly every state in America, regardless of anyone’s ability to pay tuition.  I am deeply grateful to our colleagues in CAMD, especially Linda Carter Griffith, and all those student moderators and organizers, for their leadership and hard work to make today possible.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is one of the things that Andover does extremely well.  I love the idea that we don’t take the day “off” — though we don’t hold regular classes and practices — but we rather take the day “on,” to explore what Dr. King’s legacy means to us today in this community and more broadly.  We are especially fortunate to have Maria Hinojosa — Emmy-award-winning NPR journalist — here with us as our keynote speaker this morning, to lead us and to help us think about the importance of voice and narrative.

Often, when we at Andover talk about diversity and when we celebrate Dr. King’s life and legacy, we talk about our commitment, enshrined in the school’s constitution of 1778, to educate “Youth from Every Quarter.”  That term has long been our guide, and is alive and well.  We are deep into this year’s admissions season, as our good friends and colleagues on Team Shuman and faculty readers are sifting through another extraordinary group of applicants, those who wish to be a part of Andover’s future.  This weekend, we were blessed with 1,200 guests — young people and their families from every background who are considering joining our community — for the Day at Andover.

Today, though, I wanted to emphasize another of our founding phrases – the idea of Knowledge with Goodness.  You will recall that our Constitution tells us that Knowledge without Goodness is dangerous.  As the Phillips Academy Constitution says, when Goodness and Knowledge are united, they “form the noblest character, and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to mankind.”  I take this phrase to mean that it is not enough for us merely to teach you the tools that you will need to thrive in a 21st century.  Surely we need to teach these things – surely you ought to master core academic disciplines.  You need to learn critical thinking, how to work in teams, and how to be creative.  But you must also learn to combine this knowledge with goodness.

What, you might ask, does Knowledge with Goodness have to do with Martin Luther King Day, or with community and diversity?  To my mind, it has everything to do with this day of celebration and reflection.  Today, we ask ourselves what it means to be an individual in a community.  It has to do with how we act at Andover and who we want to be.  It has everything to do with character.

What does it mean to have Goodness along with all this Knowledge that you are acquiring here at Andover?  Goodness is a character trait.  To me, this goodness is, at its core, about how we relate to one another.  It is how we use our gifts both for ourselves and for others.  We see this goodness, this character, all around us.

In the last week, I found this goodness, this strength of character, in the speech that Meera gave about her homeland, Syria, rocked with war and torn by the geopolitics of our age.  I found this goodness in the performances of all those students who created a stunning production of Dido and Aeneas from scratch: the six student instrumentalists; the voices of Fidelio and the soloists, Caroline and Adam and their friends; the graceful movement of the dance team and the Graham and Emily in their starring turns.  I found this goodness in the dedication of the performance to a teacher, friend, and faculty spouse whose passing we mourn together.  I found this goodness in the way that our fans cheered our boys hockey team to an amazing comeback against St. Sebastian’s – down 4-2 with two minutes left, they tied the game and then won in overtime, their friends pounding on the plexiglass with every dramatic goal, ending at 5-4.  Ditto for the cheering and dancing led by Varsity SLAM, leading on the Girls’ Varsity Basketball in their come from behind win on Saturday.  I found this goodness in the stacks of the OWHL, where a senior was walking another student through some science homework that was far beyond my own comprehension.  I read it again in a senior’s email to me (Samantha) asking me to say “happy birthday” to her roommate (Emilia).  Happy birthday, Emilia!

I see this goodness in classrooms that I visit across the campus.  To embrace diversity and difference is not to accept lower standards.  In our classrooms, we embrace the strength and necessity of difference in our increasingly complex, interconnected world.  We see this strength and excellence in page after page of Out of the Blue, the book that tells the story of today’s Andover better than any other text we have.

Most of all, I find this goodness all around us at Andover as I see your smiling faces on the pathways, making your way from class to sports to activities and back to your dorms and homes, making your mark on this school and this community.

Today, at Andover, we refuse to look away from the challenges of living in a diverse community, in a diverse world.  No matter who you are, you may feel uncomfortable in talking about diversity.  It is a crucial form of knowledge with goodness to be able to express your views about diversity – to tell your own, beautiful story and to struggle with it along with your peers and your teachers.

As you read Out of the Blue, you may find a piece of yourself in a particular essay or poem. You might be the writer who asked why girls are not allowed to swear the same way that boys can.  You might be the boy who identified with Hamlet as he struggled with coming out as a gay male.  You might be the gentile who goes to a camp for Jewish kids or you might be the Jewish student who asks whether your own community takes enough action these days.  You might be the student from a “small, infamous town” who wrote, “People are always surprised when they see how hard I work in all aspects of my life.”  You might be the student who explained to all of us what it means to be a student at Andover who comes from an Asian family.

I want to reply to an Out of the Blue author, who wrote an amazingly powerful statement, which also included a question.  You wrote: “It’s important to have diversity.  40% students of color.  Is that why I’m here?  For diversity?  To help some rich kids cross ‘ racial barriers’ they created?”  My response is both “yes” and “no.”  Yes, you are here for diversity, but you are not alone in being here for diversity.  We are all here for diversity, whether yours will be the first generation in your family to go to college or whether your family has been attending Andover since it was founded.  That’s why we are all here and we all have to grapple with it.  As a white male of privilege, I know that I struggle with what my own identity means – especially in this role as Head of School.

The bottom line is that we all come to Andover to live, learn, and work together as an intentionally diverse community – for many of us, the most diverse community we will ever live in.  We are not perfect; no one of us is perfect; we are all a work in progress, individually and collectively.  As our former Associate Head of School, Rebecca Sykes, wrote in her essay in Out of the Blue, the point is not that we are great at diversity at Andover; it is that “we do not shy away from the hard conversations” about race and other topics that can either divide us or join us together as a community.

I am struck, as I read back through our Constitution, by how well the ideals of this school hang together, 235 years later.  There is profound beauty in how these founding principles intersect.  We are blessed with ideals that support one another.  Non sibi means that we think not just of ourselves – which is inevitable – but of others.  Knowledge with Goodness means that we choose to apply our hard-earned knowledge and skills in pursuit of not just our self-interest, but the community interest.  Youth from Every Quarter means that we draw strength from the diversity of perspective, race, gender, sexuality, class, and religion in our community.   Excellence in academics, athletics, and arts means not the pursuit of a single truth but accomplishment across a vast range of things that you come to master during your time at Andover.  Excellence means accomplishment and goodness in a diverse community.

I’ll close today with one of my favorite passages.  I urge you, by the way, to read Out of the Blue cover to cover.   On p. 211, one person concluded an essay with these words: “Day by day, I think I am doing better and better and I love Andover more and more.  I have learned so much from people around me.  Andover is a place where people always love you back if you love them.  Over time, I felt very much part of the community.  I am grateful that I finally blend in and have such great teachers and friends.  My heart is full of happiness right now, because I have a lot to treasure.  My mom says when people grow up, they do not simply receive more happiness; they learn how to find it.  I think I have found my happiness at Andover, and I am looking for more.”  I don’t know whose voice that is, but whoever you are, I’m grateful to you.  I send you my love for what you wrote.

I wish everyone a wonderful Martin Luther King Jr. day for 2014, here at Andover.  Thank you.

What I’m Looking For in a Short Paper: Hacking Class 2013-2014

I am teaching a winter-term seminar course at Phillips Academy to ten seniors entitled “Hacking: A Course in Experiments.”  I had a great time teaching it last year as well with ten students (I miss them!), and now have the privilege of repeating it for a new group of students.  We are starting today.  The class takes place in our home on campus, called Phelps House.  As I write this draft, the students are arriving at our home momentarily.

One of the several purposes of this course is to give our high school seniors an opportunity to think and to write about topics that cross disciplinary boundaries.  For some, this course is the first interdisciplinary seminar, of the style that is customary in universities, that they will take.  For those who have already taken an interdisciplinary course — and there are several wonderful ones at PA — I intend for this course to include extra doses of creativity, case-based work, digital literacy skill development, and problem-solving.  We explore themes of ethics and computer science through the lens of cases such as WikiLeaks and Khan Academy, among others.

One strength of the education at Phillips Academy is the number of times and ways that students are required to write, especially if they spend three or four years here.  Students are asked to write short, analytical essays; creative works; lab reports; long research papers; and other types of assignment.  I am a big believer in many chances to write and lots of specific, detailed feedback.  (To be clear, I agree with those who think our students need to write more in form of longer, research-based papers than they tend to do.  A long paper is an option for the final project in this course, and there are other chances at PA to write longer pieces.)  With students in this seminar in mind, I am writing to them about what I am expect in a fine, short essay.  Guidelines follow.  I’d be interested in seeing what other high school teachers share with their seniors in terms of expectations for similar writing assignments.

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The length I expect for the short papers in the Hacking seminar is roughly a page or two.  The sweet-spot is 750 words, give-or-take a few hundred.  I have in mind pieces of the scope of a New York Times op-ed or a briefing paper to a high-level public or corporate official who has limited time to read in advance of a crucial meeting.  Here are some things I expect in a strong essay of this length:

Frame a great question.  I don’t expect you to find a “right answer” in these short essays you are writing.  It is, however, essential that you frame a great question.  A big part of your job is to find a hard problem lurking in the topic for the day; expose it for me and for your fellow students, who ideally will have a chance to read your essay before class (or at least to hear about it from you when we meet).

Make an argument.  Please say something in your essay.  Answer your own great question in a way that is thought-provoking.  I am much more interested in seeing that you’ve engaged deeply with the material than that you’ve gotten the answer “right.”  I am interested in what you think, not so much what you read about the thoughts of others.

Marshal facts to make your case.  It’s necessary, but not sufficient, to present a novel, provocative argument.  You need to employ persuasive evidence to support your claim.  Yes, the essays are short, but they can’t be vapid; bring a few compelling facts or theories into play that convince your reader of your point of view.

Be honest.  These essays are not meant to be group projects; they must be your own work.  When in doubt, drop a footnote.  If you have any questions as to whether to cite to something, please refer to the academic honesty policy in the syllabus or write to me directly.

Be concise.  Part of the reason I want you to write short pieces is so that you’ll get multiple “reps” over the course of the term and we can work together on your writing.  But another reason for short pieces is to require you to be concise.  (I am fan of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.  Their principle of composition #17: “Omit Needless Words.”  One wit improved on the principle: “eschew superfluage.”  Students: if you’d promise to read and consider it, I’d be glad to give you a copy of Strunk and White as a gift.)

There’s much more I could say, but that would violate my own advice, so I won’t.  I know we as teachers don’t always have time to provide as much detailed feedback as we’d like — I can recall times when I’ve fallen down on that score — but it’s such an important part of the teaching and learning process, often best carried out in the context of a course not explicitly about writing, and I’m going to do my part.  If my feedback on your work doesn’t make sense or if I can help you figure out how to improve a subsequent essay, let’s talk about it.  I much look forward to receiving your papers and to being inspired by what you have to say.

Bookshelf: Ideas for Secondary School Teachers, with a Bent Toward the Digital

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.)

Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Harper, 2007)

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.

Leonard Sax, Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls (Basic Books, 2011)

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.)

Ethan Zuckerman: Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection (Norton, 2013)

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:

Cathy Davidson, Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century (Penguin, 2012)

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!

Steven Johnson, Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age (Riverhead, 2012)

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.

Salman Khan, The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined (Twelve, 2012)

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.

Tony Wagner, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World (Scribner, 2012)

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:

David Burstein, Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping Our World (Beacon, 2013)

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.)

Beth Coleman, Hello Avatar: The Rise of the Networked Generation (MIT Press, 2011)

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.

Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Random House, 2006) 

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.

Shamus Khan, Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School (Princeton, 2012)

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.

Claude Steele, Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (Norton, 2011)

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.

S. Craig Watkins, The Young & The Digital: What the Migration to Social-Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for our Future (Beacon, 2009)

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.

All-School Meeting Remarks: Opening of School, 2013 at Phillips Academy

I thought I would share on this blog a copy of what I said, more or less, to the assembled 1,129 students and to hundreds of faculty of Phillips Academy this morning to open our school year.  The All School Meeting, held in Cochran Chapel, started with a procession of 58 flags representing the countries from which our students hail, the spirited entrance of the Class of 2014, and the introduction of the faculty of the Academy.  After a brief welcome and acknowledgement of the 9/11 tragedy, and a moment of silence, the two, articulate student body co-presidents addressed the students, as did an extraordinarily poised student representing the international student body.  I then shared these thoughts with the students to start the year.

students carrying flags

The first ASM starts with a procession led by flag bearers carrying flags from the 33 countries represented within the student body.

Thank you, all, for this spirited all-school meeting – this Celebration of Community.  We are strong because of what makes us different from one another – our diversity – and also what we share – our values and our humanity.  We celebrate this joyful mix this morning.

At this time of year, I find myself looking forward to what the academic year will hold – thinking about my aspirations for the school year to come.  For the next few minutes, I hope that you will set aside your most immediate thoughts – like what’s for lunch, or the homework you have to do later, or who might have texted you in the moments before you turned off your device for ASM – and devote your mind to what you want to do, who you want to be, in the months to come.

We have the great privilege of being at Andover, together, for the 2013-2014 year.  We have, give or take, nine months together.  How do you want to spend your time?  How shall we spend this time together?  How shall we use this gift together?

I have three metaphors in mind.  Perhaps at least one of them will work for you.

The first is the metaphor of the starfish.  I chose today to wear a tie, given to me by a new member of this community, that has on it a starfish.  This tie is appropriate for today in multiple respects.  One respect is its colors: it has in it both the deep blue of Phillips Academy and the pale blue of Abbot Academy.  We are the merger of both these two great schools, 40 years ago.  It is incumbent upon us to learn and to recall this shared history, of girls and boys, of women and men, who have come before us to create this great school that thrives here today.

Back to the starfish itself.  The starfish is pretty – and that’s part of its appeal.  But it also has an unusual ability – the ability to regenerate itself.  This metaphor applies to school communities because, each year, some of the members of our community leave, and new members come to join us.  The starfish – and the community – end up looking a little bit different each year.  But the whole remains the same.  It our job to make this regeneration beautiful and harmonious with the whole – for leaders to step up in every walk of life at the Academy, whether the administration or the grounds crew, the Phillipian or the Philo, in each and every classroom, team, and artistic endeavor.  Many of last year’s leaders are in college or pursuing other dreams.  Now is our time at Andover.  Let’s make the most of it.

Second metaphor: a canvass.  Each of us has before us this gift of a year.  It’s a year of our life, a precious gift, and we have it to spend, here and now, at Andover – to me, among the highest privileges one can imagine.  Few people on the planet have such privilege.  We should not wallow in guilt but rather make the most of it.

As you think about your canvass for the year: what will you fill it with?  I hope your canvass will include creative things you thought you’d never do; some things you expected to do and have done extremely well; and also some blank space, for time you spent resting and caring for your self – yes, by that I mean sleep.  I hope your canvass also includes beautiful connections to other people, the joy of community that we share and that we celebrate today.

Part of what is exciting about life at Andover is that each of our canvasses connect to one another.  We are making our own year, but we make it together, connected to the lives and the aspirations of our friends and colleagues.  We are never, at Andover, alone; our actions are never without consequence for others.  Pursue your dreams, yes, but recall non sibi – recall our commitment of not for self – and recall what great power you have to help your fellow students through the hardest of days at Andover.  Think now, as you walk to your next class or to lunch, about what you want your canvass, for this year, to look like.  It’s in your hands.

Finally, the metaphor that most resonates for me each year at this time.  I cannot start a school year without thinking of the steps in Paresky, the steps that lead from the first floor to the second.

I think about these steps because I think a lot about what it means to be the 15th head of school at an Academy that has been one of the great institutions of teaching and learning in this country for 235 years.  Much of what I think about has to do with the balance between tradition and innovation – about what we want to keep, and what we need to change – and about the role that each of us play in that process over time.

My very favorite place on campus happens to be these two staircases, leading from the first floor to the second floor of Paresky.  There is something about progress upwards, toward the divine, or towards the future, that I like about them.  Perhaps it has to do with the food, which is far better than the dining hall food I’ve had at any school I’ve gone to or worked at.  But mostly it has to do with the steps themselves.

You’ve probably noticed these steps.  The steps have indentations in the marble – indentations made by generations of students, faculty and staff who have gone before us.  I love these indentations because they make me mindful of the fact that we are not alone in this journey.  We are not alone today and we are not alone over time.  This is an institution that has stood the test of time – and has thrived because it has grown and improved over time.  It has stood true to certain principles, but it has also changed as it needed to change.

Why I like the steps in Paresky so much is that I know that my steps – as head of school – matter.  They matter in that I, too, am making those indentations deeper than they were before.  If I put a foot in the deepest part, I am making that indentation just a bit deeper.  If I step where others have not stepped so often, perhaps closer to the middle of the stair, then I make a tiny mark where others have not so frequently walked.

I know that my steps do matter, as your head of school.  But, as an educator and as a matter of physics, I also know that my steps do not really matter any more than your steps.  Perhaps I weigh a bit more than some of you, so my indentation is a bit deeper, or my footfall heavier than yours is, as you sprint more quickly from the first to the second floor.  But none of us can change this place very quickly with our footsteps.  None of us can change those steps, all that much, on our own.  And we will be followed – there will be a sixteenth head of school.  There will be a class of 2045, perhaps with some of your children in it, or my grandchildren.

I had the great pleasure last year and into this summer of meeting many of the school’s roughly 25,000 alumni.  I’ve met very recent grads and members of classes that have already had their 50th reunions.  I’ve met graduates who did not like their time here much and some who have given much of their time and their treasure to support this school.

One meeting, that I’ll remember for a long time, was with the Mr. and Mrs. Paresky, in their home.  They invited me in for lemonade on a warm summer’s morning.  I asked them why they loved the school so much, and why they had given us the generous gift of the new Paresky Commons.  I loved what the Pareskys said that day: it had to do with how much the school had given to David Paresky as a student, and to their own daughter Pamela, in particular, when she followed him to the school.

But it also was about the way that Mr. Paresky thinks about obligation: the idea that he had been given much by the school, at an early age; that he had gone out and done well – and many good works, in the true non sibi spirit – in his life; and that he believed that he needed to be a steward of Andover, that he had an obligation to give back.  We get more from Andover than we give, he told me, and he wanted to be sure that the students at Andover today know about both the wonderful opportunity that you have while you are here – seize it! – and also about the extent to which great institutions like Andover don’t just happen.  They become great because generation after generation, students have been mindful of their own footsteps here and then have given back, when they’ve moved on from life on campus, out of a sense of love for the place and also obligation.

And that’s the key point about the footsteps.  We are part of a legacy.  I am the fifteenth head of school, acutely aware of the fourteen who have come before me and those who will come after me.  We each have a role to play in the story, the history, of Andover.  We can do much to change the school, but we cannot alter it completely – much as our footsteps going up the steps in Paresky cannot completely remake the marble.  We must be mindful of what we do here and the effect of our choices, now and into the future.

And as we do so, we should have fun – good, wholesome fun, of course.  We will work hard, but we should play a lot too, and enjoy this community that we are so lucky to be a part of.

Before we go, I’d like to do a few quick things.  I’ve been so happy to hear the joyful voices of all of you students lighting up this campus since the Blue Keys started to cheer on the corner as new students arrived.

First: Juniors, Lowers, Uppers: the seniors came in with a lot of spirit this morning.  I want all the juniors, lowers, and uppers, to make some noise in appreciation of those students who are going before you.  Let’s hear it for the seniors!

Seniors, you get another shot.  Let’s hear it for the juniors, lowers, and uppers, who are following in your enormous footsteps!  Make some noise!

And last, after this last cheer, the All School Meeting is adjourned.  I want you to do one last cheer – hold on! – and then walk out of this chapel into brilliant sunshine, ideally with a big smile on your faces, and perhaps a little attention, in the back of your minds, to your footfalls, today and for the nine months to come, as you go.

All students, you are going to do this last cheer.  You are surrounded, in this community, by some of the finest adults I have ever had the privilege of meeting.  This is a mindful, inspired, caring community of teachers who are devoting their professional lives – and in many respects, their personal lives, too, as they live in the dorms with you and eat together and play together – to your education.  For our last cheer of the day, Andover students, and as our last act as we leave the chapel: Let’s hear it for the teachers!