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).

Head of School Bookshelf, Fiction Edition, Fall, 2015

A few times a year, I share a booklist with the Phillips Academy faculty and offer up copies of the selections on a bookshelf outside my office.  I’m going with an all-fiction Head of School bookshelf for Fall, 2015. Last Spring, a faculty colleague suggested that I try a fiction list next, because that might encourage participation by those who might have found my non-fiction-heavy (not exclusively non-fiction, but mostly…) lists in the past a bit dense. That was all the encouragement I needed — and it also meant that my summer reading inclined more toward fiction than it ordinarily does.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (Anchor Books, 2013).  Adichie’s novel about identity, race, love, and learning has been showered with praise and awards — for good reason.  It’s a wonderful, funny novel and also full of insights about topics we talk about all the time at Andover.

Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner, 2014).  With a special nod to the history faculty and students, I chose Doerr’s account of lives during occupied France for reasons similar to the choice of Americanah.  It’s truly engaging fiction that also presents a human story with many lessons about empathy, love, and understanding.

Johanna Lane, Black Lake (Little, Brown, 2014).  We are so excited to have Johanna Lane with us at Andover as our Writer in Residence and Instructor in English at Andover.  She’s written a masterful novel about a family handling loss of multiple forms.  Lane writes beautifully — a great inspiration to all Andover students (not to mention those of us on the faculty who try to write, too!).

Tobias Wolff, Old School (Vintage, 2003).  I was tempted to list A Separate Peace here, even though it’s (a) quite old and (b) famously about Exeter.  I figured that might be a step too far back toward my own alma mater, so I decided on a more recent novel very much in the genre of A Separate Peace, but less likely to be based on Exeter and more intriguing in some respects (at least, on p. 168, there’s a reference to Exeter that makes it plain that the school depicted is another school).  It’s a great story and introduces a whole pile of the themes we struggle with (and often overcome!) every day in boarding school.  It’s also about writing, literature, and competition among boys — lots of fun.

Gene Luen Yang, American Born Chinese (Square Fish, 2006).  I wanted to include on this list a novel that takes an inventive form of some sort, and Yang’s story about Asian identity in America (among many other things) fits that bill.  It’s a clever, engaging graphic novel about assimilation, difference, and the perils of growing up in America today.  Warning to those easily offended: it is edgy and most certainly un-PC in parts; that’s what makes it worth reading, actually, to my mind.

Additional Selections.

I find it hard to limit myself to five selections for a Head of School bookshelf, so I tend to cheat and add some “additional selections.”  These choices happen to be non-fiction, and failed to make the official list solely for that reason.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All be Feminists (Anchor Books, 2014).  Super-short!  Packs a punch.  Self-explanatory.

David Brooks, The Road to Character (Random House, 2015).  You may have read parts of this book in Brooks’ New York Times column and elsewhere over the last year.  The full book adds to the texts that were published elsewhere; gets you thinking about Resume Virtues vs. Eulogy Virtues in new ways.

Lani Guinier, The Tyranny of the Meritocracy: Democratizing Higher Education in America (Beacon Press, 2015).  Both when I was a student and then as a faculty member at Harvard Law School, I admired very much the scholarship and teaching of Prof. Guinier.  Everything I’ve read of hers has been highly worthwhile, including her most recent book on what we mean when we talk about “meritocracy” in the context of education — a big theme as we went through strategic planning at Andover.

Tony Wagner & Ted Dintersmith, Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era (Simon & Schuster, 2015).  Two of the most forward-thinking people I’ve met have come together to write a book on innovation and education.  Both Wagner and Dintersmith have visited Andover recently and left us with much to contemplate.  Their book challenges all of us in education to press forward faster and with more ambition.  Worthy text to engage with, from start to finish; they pose lots of hard questions.  They also have a documentary out of the same name, which is inspiring.

Fareed Zakaria, In Defense of a Liberal Education (W.W. Norton, 2015).  I loved this book as a step away from the day-to-day conversations about teaching and learning.  Zakaria’s text brings the reader to a higher plain about the point of education and how we go about it, in conversation with contemporary work such as Andrew Delbanco‘s College, which I included on a previous list.

This week, I am putting a pile of copies of each of these books out for the faculty on the bookshelf outside my office, free for the taking, and I encourage those from afar to get copies at your local independent bookstore or library, if you are interested.  I’d love to hear what you think of them.

A few previous editions of the Head of School Bookshelf can be found here: Innovation; Adolescence, Tech and Sexuality; and Tech and Learning for Secondary School Educators.

All School Meeting Address: Winter Welcome 2014 and Discussions in the Wake of Ferguson

Good morning, Andover!

Over the Thanksgiving break, I wrote to you all an email, asking that you take some time to understand what was happening in Ferguson, Missouri.  A few members of the community — a student and a parent, in particular — wrote me back, respectfully, with deep concerns about what I had written, along with Dean Murphy [our Dean of Students] and LCG [Dean Linda Carter Griffith, our Dean of Community and Multicultural Development].  I wanted to respond to those concerns and also to explain why I think this attention and this discourse are so important.  [The original email is here.]

I asked you to pay attention to what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, not because I want you to think something in particular. In fact, while I do have a point of view on this issue, and I’m happy to share that view with any of you anytime, I very much do not want for 1129 young people to think what I think – what a disaster that would be!  In fact, let’s agree to start from a perspective of valuing intellectual freedom and the importance of being open to hear every voice in our academic community.

I asked you to pay attention for two reasons. One is that, despite the common phrase, we do not live in a “bubble” in Andover. We live in a community that is deeply connected to the world outside our beautiful campus. We live in a world where students are required to go off-campus – whether home or elsewhere – during breaks. We live in a world in which all students have friends and family who live outside of our little world here. And we live in a world that is increasingly complex – more global, more interconnected, more diverse, and moving ever more quickly.

The other reason I asked you to pay attention to what happened in Ferguson is because I think it matters a great deal in an historic sense. It matters to every single one of us – Latino/a, Asian, Black, White, regardless of the race, or races, or ethnicity or ethnicities, that you claim. It matters to each person, perhaps in a different way. But it matters to all of us because it stands for a few important things. It stands for the difficulty we continue to have in talking about race and difference in the world. I know, in what I will say to you today, I will offend one or more of you; or perhaps I will stumble badly over my words.  We must each run that risk — of offending one another, of saying the wrong thing, on the way to the truth and to productive dialogue.  This issue also stands for the very real challenge of effective law enforcement and global security — which we must accomplish with real effectiveness — and to do so in a world in which it is not possible to ignore the inequities between people in our society.

I would not have wanted for the world to be in the position that faced the policeman, Darren Wilson that night. I would not have wanted for the world to be in the position that faced Michael Brown that night — and I know, because of the color of my skin and other factors, that I am highly unlikely ever to be. I would not wish on anyone the job of being on that Grand Jury. My heart breaks for every one of their families and friends. Ditto for what happened in Staten Island, in the death of Eric Garner. Ditto for hundreds, if not thousands, of similar cases in recent years. This is hard, and this is heart-breaking. These events happen all too often in this country and in countries around the world.

We need to be better – and it starts here, in this august high school. We need to do better – and we can. We can prove that we can be empathetic toward one another. We can prove that such a diverse community can work, that we can listen and learn from one another, and that we can work toward a more just and sustainable world.

More broadly, these matters speak to more than race. These matters call the question: What does it mean to be a citizen in a republic? What it means to me is that you must have a point of view. There is a cost of freedom; there is a cost to having a say in who governs and how they do it. That cost is that you must engage. You must learn. You must listen. You must come to have a point of view on issues that matter; we cannot govern ourselves if we do not. And you must act upon it. You have no choice.  That might mean that you start a new journal, as some of your colleagues have recently done, on matters of fiscal policy; it might mean that you organize a forum and a candlelight vigil; it might mean that you put yourself into the public arena with a point of view on something else that matters to you.  But to make democracy work, you must find your path toward being a true citizen.

It may be that one of us in this room will be in the position of Darren Wilson one day; maybe one of us will be in Michael Brown’s shoes; in America, we will all be on that Grand Jury; we will all be their friends and family. Not in exactly the same way, and – we pray – not with the same outcome. But when we sign up for life in a republic, we sign up to do the work of being a citizen — to being on that jury, to making those hard decisions, to figuring out how we can have effective law enforcement and global security in a way that is consonant with the Constitution and with international norms of human rights. That work is hard; it matters; and it is all of our work.

I could not be more proud to live in this country; I could not be more proud to be an American.  I could not be more proud to live and work at Andover; I could not be more proud to be your head of school.  Neither America nor Andover is perfect. Neither one is completely exceptional. But on their best days, they are both completely wonderful.  We can and must make both of them better – and with them, the world at large. Andover, it starts here – it starts with each of us and with our community.  We can show that democracy works in the context of free, open, orderly discussion on topics that matter — whether they relate to what is right in front of us or what is occurring in the world at large.

I will end with a quote that I love.  I know that there are valid critiques of this quote, but I love it – for its spirit and for what it calls on each of us to do. It is a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States. He almost certainly did not have in mind as inclusive a community as I do today, but he got the call to engaged citizenship just right.  Where I say “man”, you can choose to hear “person.”  Otherwise, please just listen to it for the spirit and the challenge it presents:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

All School Meeting dismissed.

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.