Once again, I’m delighted to share here my summer reading recommendations for educators. As with previous years, I present these as a top ten list: these are my favorite ten educational titles I’ve read in the past school-year, 2015-16.
As you scroll down, you’ll also find below the top ten additional suggestions for the best free educational reports and e-books of the past year or so, and a smaller set of reading for pleasure suggestions.
For the past years’ recommendations/top ten lists, you can click the following for
Note: Asterisks attached to book titles indicates the book would be a worthy selection for a faculty summer reading list; asterisks by author names indicate (for full disclosure) that the author is someone I count as a friend—(though whether or not he or she views me the same way I cannot say).
Top Ten List
1/ Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why*. (2016) (21k12 2016 Book of the Year)
Paul Tough, a journalist affiliated with NYTimes Magazine, has very recently published a new companion volume to his bestselling and much celebrated 2012 title, How Children Succeed. In that book, he vividly demonstrated through observation, anecdote, and research-review the importance to school success of noncognitive skills such as grit and curiosity. This new title has been prepared to help provide a better answer to what he’s been asked in every public presentation about his former book: How do we teach children to develop these critically important qualities and attributes?
It’s not altogether easy to explain why I think this book is so very valuable, and worthy of my annual book of the year nod. It’s not long, just over 100 pages, and it’s not particularly original: it’s largely a rehashing of other people’s research and findings. And I should add, as someone who pays close attention to this topic, I don’t think every assertion made here is entirely accurate; I disagree, partially, with some of his conclusions, including one of his most central claims, that noncognitive skills cannot be taught directly.
But concision has its value: Tough’s beautifully written work carefully reviews the field and then surfaces just a very select, curated we might say, set of activities and initiatives we can do, both our society on the whole and our educational community in particular, to bolster students noncognitive skills in ways which will make a world of difference. Each of the critical findings or reforms is illustrated or exemplified with succinct descriptions of important actors in this arena, including some of my own favorite (and most admired) educators such as Camille Farrington, Bob Lenz, and Ron Berger.
Tough concludes with a message all educators would benefit from careful reflection: “Helping children in adversity to transcend their difficulties is hard and often painful work. It can be depressing, discouraging, even infuriating. But what the research shows is that it can also make a tremendous difference, not only in the lives of individual children and their families, but in our communities and nations as a whole. It is work we can all do, whether or not it is the profession we have chosen. The first step is to simply embrace the idea, as those researchers did, that we can do better.”
2/ Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. (2015) Robert Putnam. This book, of national and political import far beyond education, pairs well with Paul Tough’s new book. Both books unpack how deeply affected children are by the swiftly growing economic gulf of our society, showing the lasting, enormously detrimental effects of growing up in the instability and neglect poverty sometimes (not always) produces in the lives of children. They also both work to identify and suggest how we might change policy and practice to close the gap and greatly enhance the lives of children. And, both highlight the importance of developing children’s noncognitive skills to enhance their success. Putnam, unlike Tough, views the situation through lens both sociological and historical, and conveys how radically changed economic and social dynamics have become such that children of poverty are far more deeply disadvantaged than they were half a century ago.
One lasting message from Putnam is the power of extracurricular activities in supporting student social and emotional growth, and how devastating it has been to see public ed cut funding and demand fees for these programs. “When fees were introduced, one in every three sports-playing kids from homes with annual incomes of $60,000 or less dropped out because of the increased cost, as compared to one in ten kids from families with incomes over $60,000. Within a few decades America’s public schools have thrust the burden of extracurricular activity, and the resulting soft skills benefits, onto the family, reversing nearly a century of settled educational policy, with predicable results in terms of equality of access.” As someone who spends a lot of time in and around private and independent schools, schools which often ask how they might better serve all, not just a select set, of children in their community, I wonder whether by using their campus resources and coaching they might be able to step in to reduce this extracurricular opportunity gap in public education.
Putnam’s book is haunting, one which should be read by every educator and policymaker. After all, “for America’s poor kids do belong to us and we to them. They are our kids.” (more…)