A chance to join the new Andover Institute and the famed Phillips Academy math department. ..
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 National Association of School Psychologist (NASP) also integrates research and data regarding psychological topics and has helpful handouts available.
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: 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.
Note: For quick answers to quick sexual health questions that our students ask regularly.
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).
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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So excited to welcome the Cambridge Public Library to the Digital Public Library of America!
Originally posted on The Cambridge Room:
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.
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:
The overall Institute plan is shaping up here. We are targeting a launch likely in November, 2014. Stay tuned!
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.
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.
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.
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.
* * *
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.
These are my live-blogging notes from morning sessions — especially Sal Khan’s keynote — at the New York Times Schools Conference on September 17, 2013 at the Times Center. Here are some high-points from Sal Khan’s keynote, which expand on the basics about reach that you may already know (reaches 200 countries, 8 million registered users, 1.2 billion problems completed):
- Khan Academy (KA) is implementing game mechanics, badges, leveling-up, lots of experimentation, assessment of big data, testing education theory – including growth mindset theory of Carol Dweck at Stanford, e.g. (early returns suggest that she is right).
- What KA is super-focused on is common core alignment, deep mathematics, and real mastery.
- If you or child go to KA today, you will get asked to take an 8-question pretest for math, starting personalization & pathways.
- “We are a tool, but it’s really about the teacher.”
- Blended learning: promising results by teacher Peter McIntosh at Oakland Unity in implementing the KA model in a classroom.
- KA is not about putting kids in front of a computer, but rather to free up time for teachers and learners to do better things with time off the computer.
- There is a great deal of work underway around the world to take KA into communities, via non-profits and schools.
- The #1 creator of content in Mongolian is a 17-year-old girl in an orphanage who just started with KA content at 15 when Cisco engineers spent their vacation setting up tech in Mongolian orphanages.
- Last week: launch of the full Spanish language KA. Brazilian Portugese is next, and on from there.
- “We are at a special moment in history” for education, Khan claims. It’s not a cheap approximation of a good education that we want to provide for kids who are not otherwise able to afford it; we ought to provide a world-class education for anyone. Education is not scarce and only for the few.
- The advanced placement tests will be going up on the site, with Phillips Academy faculty (yay!) working with Khan Academy team members on advanced mathematics, e.g.
Good questions for Sal Khan from the audience:
- Tension between two statements: 1) teachers matter and 2) any child can get a world-class education for free. How can those both be true?
- Worries about data privacy (as a non-profit, we are careful about that, says Khan).
- Is it ever going to be possible to get a high-school degree just on KA, without ever going to a school? Maybe, says Khan. We should have a mastery-based model rather than a time-based model. Perhaps community colleges will be involved; maybe employers; but in any event, it will be a competency-based model.
- Two questions address the role of community college. Sal likes the combination of a competency-based online assessment with an in-person component, perhaps at community colleges.
From the “debate” on “whether the university has had its day” (which no one on the panel seems to think has had its day):
- Residential education can be improved. Online education is causing hard questions to be asked about both online and in-person teaching, which are only to the good.
- There’s no “one” single higher-ed experience, as teachers or learners.
- President Martin of Amherst stresses things that can only happen in person, on college campuses: certain important intergenerational relationships, life in the most socio-economically diverse communities that exist anywhere, and the value of the company of attentive others, which should not be foregone, for instance.
- There’s already a disruptive set of innovations underway at the hands of institutions on their own.
- There’s a changing high school demographic that will cause enrollment to flatten in higher ed, says Chancellor Zimpher of the State University of New York.
- We’re not good enough at measuring success in higher ed (possibilities thrown out by panelists and Tweeters: completion; mastery; education-for-education’s sake; learning things like ethics and morality?).