Head of School Bookshelf, Spring, 2016 Edition

This Spring term, I’m putting out on the bookshelf outside the Head of School’s office copies of the following books for the Andover faculty.  The idea is that the books can go and stay home, come back to the bookshelf, or end up as a gift to someone else.  The Spring, 2016 list includes:

Sarah Bakewell, At the Existentialist Café.  This book is not of the sort that I often include on this list — which tends to be focused on matters of education, child development, and digital media — but I read it over Spring break and hugely enjoyed it.  Ms. Bakewell takes the reader on a jaunt through the lives of leading existentialists, beginning early in the 20th century and extending through the end of the life of Simone de Beauvoir, one of the main characters.  There’s a fair amount of resonance with current cultural and political debates in the themes she takes up.  Anyone who read the existentialists as a young person and was intrigued will enjoy coming back to them via this book.  The story is a blend of the lives of the philosophers and the way in which the author (Bakewell) experienced their works.  It’s a lot of fun.

Jeff Hobbs, The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace.  Such a powerful, sad story.  A précis can be found in this New York Times review. Those of us who work in academic settings that seek to bring together talented young people from everywhere (“youth from every quarter,” in our charter), the issues that this narrative raises are essential to consider.  Actually, anyone who lives in America should read this book and consider the hard issues that this account of Mr. Peace’s life and death pose for us as a society.

Jessica Lahey, The Gift of Failure.  Ms. Lahey takes aim at how many of us parent and educate today — and tells us that we need to let our students fail more often.  This book is in line with many of the faculty meeting conversations we have at Andover, as we consider how we can support all our students in both their successes and their inevitable adolescent failures.  As young people perceive they need to be “perfect” to get into their “dream schools” for college, the job of enabling them to fail safely and recover well is increasingly important.  Though not entirely new as a message, readers will enjoy Lahey’s perspective as a middle-school teacher, someone on the front lines of this ongoing debate about how best to raise a generation.

Chang-Rae Lee, Native Speaker.  I seek to include at least one work of fiction on each Head of School bookshelf list.  This novel is a few decades old (1995); it still resonates in terms of the cultural issues it raises, and it holds up well as an enduring work of fiction worthy of study in its own right.  Our English teachers at Andover often teach it.  The characters are beautifully wrought.  And the use of language (itself a theme in the book) is lovely.

Liz Murray, Breaking Night.  This book is not new, either (2006) — and many will have seen the made-for-TV special about Ms. Murray’s life.  The story is both challenging and uplifting.  For those of us in boarding schools that have students from every socio-economic bracket, some of the lessons in this book are hugely important.  There are many powerful messages in this first-person account of an extraordinary life, written by a young person early in her career.  (Murray’s book is paired with the book about Robert Peace, above, in terms of the challenges faced by those who bridge cultural gaps in coming to elite educational institutions.)  With a h/t to my colleague Heidi Jamieson at Andover for passing along a copy of the book last term.

Leonard Sax, The Collapse of Parenting.  Dr. Sax is a practicing physician and author who writes based on his long experience seeing patients and advising families.  His latest book, The Collapse of Parenting, quickly hit the best-seller list when it came out a few months ago.  I admired his previous book about Girls on the Edge (including on a previous HOS bookshelf list).  Some parents and educators will love his no-nonsense approach; others will consider it too confining.  The book is easy to read and prompts important discussion.  (I’ve paired it on this list with the Lahey book, above.)

As usual, I’m also putting out additional copies of books by recent speakers on campus.  Two of these: danah boyd’s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (on a previous HOS bookshelf list) and Moustafa Bayoumi, This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror, both well worth the read.

Links to a few recent lists: here (mostly on tech and sexuality), here (innovation), here (teaching, talent, and testing), here (fiction), and here (a mix, as this Spring’s is, too).

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.