In our book, On Being a Scholar-Practitioner: Wisdom in Action, we propose six qualities comprising a stance of scholarly practice: pedagogical wisdom, theoretical understanding, contextual literacy, ethical stewardship, metacognitive reflection, and aesthetic imagination. In addition, we suggest that Scholar-Practitioners engage in communities of practice to further their own capacity for scholarly practice; to share the wisdom they have gained through thoughtful study of their practice; and to advocate for quality education. The resources provided in the S-P Library relate to one or more of these ideas. They are not the result of exhaustive reviews. Rather they are materials that have informed our thinking, inspired light bulb moments, or provide portals to other relevant resources.
From Moment to Meaning Piantanida, M., Llewellyn, M.J., McMahon, P.L. From Moment to Meaning: The Art of Scholar-Practitioner Inquiry. (Pittsburgh, Learning Moments Press, 2020). This book is grounded in the premise that context-embedded studies can yield important insights into the complexities of educational practice. For Scholar-Practitioners, such inquiries often arise when the routine course of events is disrupted. The resulting disequilibrium precipitates a desire to understand what happened. Gaining such understanding entails a capacity for recollective, introspective, and conceptual reflection. Through a series of Reflective Prompts, From Moment to Meaning encourages educators to cultivate the reflective mindset conducive to careful examination of practice-embedded dilemmas. While most directly applicable to those enrolled in Master’s and doctoral programs, the information in the chapters and scenarios of this book can be used by all thoughtful educators whose practice is enhanced by a commitment to deep learning. By reflecting on lived experience, practitioners can theorize about the significance of evocative moments and thereby contribute to the evolving discourses in the field of education.
Tananis, Cynthia A., editor. An Invitation to Study Group: A Collection of Think Pieces. Pittsburgh: Learning Moments Press, 2020. Invitation to Study Group When individuals enter a university, they enter a world of ideas; one that demands new ways of learning. This change entails letting go of the notion that knowledge is a static commodity to be passively assimilated. It entails an understanding that knowledge is socially constructed within deliberative communities. Study groups represent one form of deliberative community. More than gatherings for "discussion" or "conversation," study groups offer a context for deliberating on important ideas. They provide an intellectual space for the give and take of different perspectives and for examining what we think we know or hope to understand. The contributors to this edited collection of think pieces reflect on their experiences as members of a group intent on studying their own practice. In sharing the challenges and rewards of study group participation, the authors hope to encourage ohers to engage in similarly productive study group experiences. Their message is particularly important given current school improvement initiatives that seek to involve educational practitioners in deliberations about the complexities of teaching and learning.
Piantanida, Maria. A Call to Learning: From Resistance to Engagement. Pittsburgh: Learning Moments Press, 2020. A Call to Learning “When the student is ready the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready... The teacher will disappear.” Lao Tzu When a student who is truly ready to learn meets a teacher who is truly ready to teach, both can embark on an intellectually exciting and emotionally satisfying journey. Deeply engaged learning, however, is demanding—often pushing both learner and teacher to the limits of their abilities. Dwelling in the uncertain space between what is known and what is still to be learned can be fraught with anxiety, an anxiety so great that we erect walls of protective resistance. Through this collection of personal essays, the author of A Call to Learning reflects on her own resistance to learning and invites readers to do the same. As she moves through the landscape of her life as a student, learner, teacher, and curriculum developer, she explores nooks and crannies in the walls of resistance. In these small spaces lie opportunities for meaningful learning. When students and teachers seize upon these opportunities, both can transcend the limitations of their ritualized roles and journey together toward greater knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.
Piantanida, Maria, McMahon, Patricia L., & Llewellyn, Marilyn. On Being a Scholar-Practitioner: Practical Wisdom in Action. (Pittsburgh: Learning Moments Press, 2019). On Being a Scholar-Practitioner: Practical Wisdom in Action On Being a Scholar-Practitioner: Practical Wisdom in Action challenges the traditional dichotomy between practitioners and scholars. Grounded in the concept of praxis—thinking informs action and action informs thinking—this book explores a stance of Scholar-Practitioner comprising six qualities that characterize their work in education. Scholar-Practitioners cultivate a reservoir of Pedagogical Wisdom that guides their decisions and actions. Theoretical Understanding and Contextual Literacy support educators as they work at the intersection of complex social and institutional forces. Embracing the qualities of Ethical Stewardship and Aesthetic Imagination empowers Scholar-Practitioners to advocate for the educational well-being of individuals and the profession. Through Metacognitive Reflection, Scholar-Practitioners become more than recipients of rational-technical knowledge generated by others; they become sources of wisdom for fulfilling the purpose of education.
Garman, Noreen B. & Piantanida, Maria, editors. The Authority to Imagine: The Struggle toward Representation in Dissertation Writing. (Pittsburgh: Learning Moments Press, 2018). The Authority to Imagine In this book, scholar-practitioners offer alternatives to the five-chapter thesis crafted in the tradition of science reports. As authors of meritiorious and award-winning dissertations, they provide insights into the challenging process of conceptualizing interpretive methods of inquiry including narrative, heuristic, social cartography, grounded theory, spritiual inquiry, reflective art-making; and essay writing. Each author explores the interconnections among her ontological leanings and the method, content and form of her dissertation. The editors frame these examplars of individual studies within the broader discourses of interpretive inquiry. This collection is particularly timely as many universities are currently exploring what types of scholarhip might best serve educational practitioners pursuing graduate and doctoral degrees.
Llewellyn, Marilyn J. Spirituality and Pedagogy. (Pittsburgh: Learning Moments Press, 2017). Spirituality and Pedagogy Those who have been drawn to teaching by a desire to make a difference in children’s lives will find Spirituality and Pedagogy a welcome relief from the unremitting focus on narrow (and often punitive) measures of standardized achievement, accountability and compliance. Exploring themes of compassion, faith and social justice, Dr. Marilyn Llewellyn offers—with humility and thoughtfulness—an inspiring vision of what teaching can be at its best. In this refreshing and insightful text Marilyn Llewellyn invites teachers to respect and seek to safeguard the informal spiritual culture in every school. For her, conscious of children’s individual spiritual capacity and vulnerability, the school is sacred ground. She uses the meanings of words usually found in religious contexts like spirituality, contemplation, revelation and faith to evoke parallel meanings in the everyday work of teaching and learning. In contrast to current technical discourses of instruction and performance measurement, her unabashed plea for respectful care for the individual pupil and her or his learning path is welcome indeed.
Books By Other Writers
Anders, George. You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education. (New York: Little, Brown & Co., 2017).
Given the rising cost of tuition, many college-age students (with their parents’ encouragement) see the purpose of college as preparation for a well-paying job. This, in turn, leads to the majors in practical fields such as engineering, computer science, business, and finance. Since the latter part of the 20th century, the liberal arts have been seen increasingly as irrelevant to the acquisition of marketable skills. Interestingly, however, many high-powered corporations are now looking for individuals with strong analytic skills, creative thinking, and flexibility to respond in highly dynamic environments. Those who have prepared narrowly for a specific role with a fixed set of skills can be at a disadvantage. Using many examples, Anders illuminates the value of a liberal arts education and illustrates the ways in which college graduates build satisfying careers in corporate America. This book can offer high school students and their parents an important perspective to consider when making decisions about college majors. It offers a refreshing counterpoint to the resume-driven admissions mania critiqued by Frank Bruni in Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania.
This book is a delight to read–whether or not one was a fan of Mister Rogers’ neighborhood at some time during its 33 year run. The authors take readers behind the scenes of The Neighborhood to reveal the thoughtfulness that went into planning each episode. They connect what Fred Rogers was doing to the most current thinking scientific thinking about learning and how the brain functions. This could seem like a rather technical and boring exposition, but it is not. It offers important insights for every teacher, school administrator, and parent. In a world so fraught with conflict, hostility, and anxiety, When You Wonder reminds us of Fred Rogers enduring lessons of kindness, respect for every individual, and reverence for life.
This book differs from many others that we have featured in the library. It does not focus on educational issues. Rather, it is a personal account of the author’s experience of having a stroke when she was 37 years old. As a trained neuroscientist, Bolte Taylor was able to observe the disintegration of her brain’s left hemisphere and to describe her loss of functions as well as her mental and emotional state. The book offers an understandable description of the brain’s functions which may of interest to educators as they read the most recent neuroscientific insights into the nature of learning. Of particular interest to me, was Bolte Taylor’s description of re-learning to read, something I imagine every child experiences but cannot put into words. Ultimately, the book is an inspiring story of one woman’s triumph over what could have been a devastating loss of self.
Brooks, David. The Road to Character. (New York: Random House, 2015).
This book is one of a growing number of works focused on the phenomenon of high-achieving students and their headlong rush to qualify for ever greater levels of accomplishment and to garner the attendant prestige and financial rewards. Of concern to educators are the loss of engagement in authentic learning and, more deeply, a thoughtful consideration of what enriches one’s life. Brooks introduces this issue by making a distinction between “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” The former emphasize accomplishments in the outer world of action. The latter are internal qualities—the content of our character for which we hope to be remembered. He goes on to examine the tensions between these two fundamentally different value systems and the risks associated with privileging resume values to the exclusion of eulogy values. Illustrative of this risk is the college admissions scandal of 2019 in which parents padded their children’s high school resumes with fake credentials and paid bribes to assure their children’s acceptance at elite universities. While such extreme parental manipulation of social systems may be rare, Brooks points to the dangers of a more pervasive style of “merit-based” parenting, particularly among upper socio-economic families. In this approach, children are driven to excel because they have intuited and internalized the message, “I am loved as long as I perform well.” Under tremendous pressure to excel in many arenas, such students often seem caught in a rat race for more advanced courses, higher grades, and wide-ranging extracurricular activities. Engaging such students in meaningful learning poses special pedagogical challenges for educators. Brooks offers no easy answers to these concerns, but provides a language through which educators can discuss the balance between externally and internally focused values. Beyond that, Brooks’ analysis offers affirmation to those who have been drawn to the profession of education, not merely as a job, but as a vocation:
No good life is possible unless it is organized around a vocation. If you try to use your work to serve yourself, you’ll find your ambition and expectations will forever run ahead and you’ll never be satisfied. If you try to serve the community, you’ll always wonder if people appreciate you enough. But if you serve work that is intrinsically compelling and focus just on being excellent at that, you will wind up serving yourself and the community obliquely. A vocation is not found by looking within and finding your passion. It is found by looking without and asking what life is asking of us. What problem is addressed by an activity you intrinsically enjoy? (p. 266)
The scholar-practitioner quality of ethical stewardship is grounded in just such an intrinsic satisfaction of contributing the societal value of education and the learning needs of their students.
Bruni, Frank. Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania. (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2015).
This book joins others in challenging the prevailing mindset that attending an elite (Ivy League) university is the best (or only) path to a high paying, prestigious career and successful life. Using many personal stories and statistics from broader studies, Bruni explores the darker side of focusing all of one’s time, energy, and effort on resume-building for the sake of acceptance at a handful of highly select schools. As he draws his analysis to closure, he offers the following summary:
…I have two particular complaints about the [admissions] mania that I’d perhaps put above others, two primary reasons that I wish kids and their parents wouldn’t be drawn into it. The first is this…The mania’s focus on such a limited number of acceptable outcomes, coupled with its attention to minutely detailed instructions for achieving them, suggests that life yields to meticulous recipes. That’s a comforting thought but a fraudulent one. The second reason is that the admissions mania perverts the true meaning and value of hard work, encouraging such effort in the designated service of a specifically defined goal, as a pragmatic bridge from point A to point B, not as an act of passion, not as a lifetime habit, not as a renewable resource, which is what it should be and how it bears the ripest, sweetest fruit. (p. 201)
Capra, Fritjof. The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems (New York: Anchor Books, 1996). The Web of Life
Capra, Fritjof and Pier Luigi Luisi. The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision (Cambridge University Press, 2014). The Systems View of Life
I’ve listed both books, because The Systems View of Life is an update of the earlier book, but I haven’t read it. From reviewing the table of contents, it looks like the book has undergone some reorganization as well as updating of information. As I read The Web of Life, I wondered about new information in light of rapidly advancing technology and research. Therefore, I’m pleased to see the new version.
The scholarship in this book is breathtaking in its scope and detail. Capra (and now Luisi) trace the evolution of systems thinking through time and across disciplines. Put to rest is the idea that we can understand the nature of things by dissecting them into ever smaller component parts. Instead, what emerges is a new understanding of the relationships between patterns and structures as the basis of life itself. From the microscopic level of bacterial to the macroscopic level of social systems, networks allow for the evolution of more complex configurations that cannot be predicted. As “disturbances” occur, systems may restabilize to an existing state or they may remake themselves with new capabilities.
I confess that some of the more detailed mathematical formulations provided in support of Capra’s unifying vision were difficult for me to follow (because I don’t think mathematically, not because Capra’s explanations are obtuse). Even so, this book offers an important new paradigm for thinking about education as it is carried out in school systems.
Cohen, David K. Teaching and Its Predicaments. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011).
Educator David Cohen offers a compelling framework for thinking about the nature of teaching. He begins by proposing that teachers are engaged in the work of human improvement, which is inherently difficult because they can succeed only if students are willing to engage with them. Next he acknowledges that a great deal of teaching and learning occur in many areas of everyday life. What distinguishes these informal activities from deliberate teaching practice is the teachers’ careful attention to the ways in which their efforts and learners are connecting. With these two premises as a foundation, he lays out three terrains in which teachers and learners meet:
One is the knowledge that teachers extend to learners, and how they extend it. The second is the organization of instructional discourse. The third is teachers’ acquaintance with students’ knowledge.
Teachers may choose to attend to these three terrains in fairly direct, straightforward ways that minimize uncertainty and ambiguity. Or they may choose to enter deeply into the terrains, attending to the many nuances of any given teaching endeavor. Having provided this overarching framework for thinking about teaching, Cohen then elaborates on the many issues that complicate the ways in which teachers may (or may not) be able to enact the role they envision for themselves.
We particularly value this book because of the way Cohen’s thesis dovetails with our view of teachers as scholar-practitioners. His ideas are particularly relevant to the scholar-practitioner quality of contextual literacy.
Nicholas A. Christakis. Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society. New York: Little, Brown, Spark, 2019.
Nicholas Christakis is a physician and sociologist whose studies include the genetic foundations for human social actions. He proposes that at the core of all societies, there is a suite of social instincts that include:
- The capacity to have and recognize individual identity
- Love for partners and offspring
- Social networks
- Preference for one’s own group (that is, “in-group bias”)
- Mild hierarchy (that is, relative egalitarianism)
- Social learning and teaching
Of particular interest to educators is his observation that in the phenomenon called “emergence” the wholes have “properties not present in the separate parts,” and “the properties are known as emergent properties. Connect people in one way, and they are good to one another. Connect them in another way, and they are not.” This underpins the importance of social organization within classrooms and school buildings. It is worth considering in relation to schools rife with bullying and those imbued with a sense of safety and belonging.
Delbanco, Andrew. College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012).
This book examines the role of colleges and universities from their founding by the Puritans to today’s challenges for survival. Through this historical lens, Delbanco makes clear that so many of the difficulties and questions surrounding the purpose and role of higher education in our society have been debated for more than 200 years. It can be reassuring to see that today’s struggles about cost, accessibility, quality, standardization, faculty roles and responsibilities, student engagement, tenure, grade inflation, and similar issues are not new. Rather, they are embedded in a long tradition of ethical, scholarly, and practical deliberations. For administrators and faculty working in higher education, this book contributes to contextual literacy at the macro-level.
Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. (New York: Scribner, 2016).
Intrigued by the question of why some individuals excel and others fail to reach their potential, Duckworth studied individuals who have reached the top of their field. Through this process she identified the quality of “grit” which encompasses four psychological assets:
- First comes interest. Passion begins with intrinsically enjoying what you do.
- Next comes the capacity to practice.
- Third is purpose. What ripens passion is the conviction that your work matters.
- And, finally, hope. Hope is a rising-to-the-occasion kind of perseverance.
At one point, Duckworth and her mentor Martin Seligman met with Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America. Together they developed and tested a hypothesis:
Teachers who have an optimistic way of interpreting adversity have more grit than their more pessimistic counterparts, and grit, in turn, predicts better teaching. For instance, an optimistic teacher might keep looking for ways to help an uncooperative student, whereas a pessimist might assume there was nothing more to be done. To test whether that was true, we decided to measure optimism and grit before teachers set foot in the classroom and a year later, see how effectively teachers had advanced the academic progress of their students…
One year later, when Teach for America had tabulated effectiveness ratings for each teacher based on the academic gains of their students, we analyzed our data. Just as we’d expected, optimistic teachers were grittier and happier, and grit and happiness in turn explained why optimistic teachers got their students to achieve more during the school year. (page 177)
Associating grit with personality traits of pessimism or optimism runs the risk of reinforcing the belief that good teachers are born and not made. But grit, like many other qualities of good teachers, can be developed. This is fortunate, because teachers and administrators need a certain level of grittiness to cope with the barrage of contextual factors that complicate their work. When teacher burnout is so prevalent—particularly among beginning teachers—cultivating the quality of grit may strengthen one’s capacity to pursue one’s passion for making a difference in the lives of others.
Ford, Leon with Jeffery Renard Allen. An Unspeakable Hope: Brutality, Forgiveness, and Building a Better Future for My Son. New York: Atria Books, 2023.
This is a searing account of a young man who grew up in an economically distressed Pittsburgh neighborhood and was paralyzed when polic shot him during an unwarranted traffic stop. Ford offers important insights into the forces that shaped his early understanding of what it meant to be a strong, respected man. These insights are important for educators to understand if they want to establish caring and respectful relationships with students. Only through such relationships might they offer meaningful support to help students to achieve their full potential. From his own dark journey through pain, anguish, anger, and bitterness, Ford came to a new understanding of strength, power, and respect. He challenges many taken-for-granted assumptions about social activism and offers a compelling message of working to overcome divisive prejudices in order to create better opportunities for all children as well as more just communities.
Furman, Cara E. & Traugh, Cecelia E. Descriptive Inquiry in Teacher Practice: Cultivating Practice Wisdom to Create Democratic Schools. New York: Teachers College Press, 2021.
This book is must reading for teachers and school administrators. It describes a process for supporting student learning, teacher development, and school improvement. Unlike so many others who draw from the fields of medicine and organizational development for strategies to “fix” education, Furman and Traugh advocate a process embedded in foundational principles of education itself. Also refreshing is the way school administrators participate in the process of descriptive inquiry, rather than using manipulative “leadership” strategies to force compliance with top down policies. The authors are not naive about the pressures exerted by externally imposed mandates, but they illustrate how they have worked to adapt mandates to their school’s vision and values. Through careful attention and deep reflection, teachers and administrators work together to create meaningful collaborative cultures within classrooms and schools. In contrast to the “quick fixes” offered by prepackaged materials, the process of descriptive inquiry draws upon the talents of those within a school. Throughout, the emphasis is on capabilities, not deficits, of both students and teachers. The work of descriptive inquiry is not necessarily easy, but examples throughout the book illustrate the important results that can be achieved.
Golden, Daniel. The Price of Admission: How American’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges–and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates. (New York: Crown Publishers, 2006).
Although this book was written over a decade ago, it seems very timely in the wake of the college admissions scandal of 2019. What the scandal brought to light was the lengths to which affluent parents will manipulate the college admission process to assure that their children attend elite universities. Less apparent from the media headlines and pictures of disgraced Hollywood celebrities is the long-established and endemic system of favoritism among the country’s most prestigious universities. Daniel Golden, an award-winning journalist, details the ways in which admissions and development offices work cooperatively to tip the admission scale in favor of children whose wealthy families make substantial contributions to fund campus buildings, endow chairs for professors and deans, and augment the university’s endowments. In addition to legacy applicants whose parents, grandparents, or even great grandparents attended the school, elite universities give preferential treatment to top notch athletes, celebrity children, children of politicians, and international students who can afford to pay full tuition. Through these unwritten policies, minority students, those in need of financial aid, and students with superior academic credentials may be denied the educational experience needed to lift their families out of poverty. As Golden puts it:
At…elite private universities, legacy preference provides affluent families with a form of insurance against a decline in educational status from one generation to the next, which might in turn lead to a decline in wealth and power. Just as English peers hold hereditary seats in the House of Lords, so the American nobility reserves slots at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and other august universities. Based on pedigree rather than merit, legacy preference strikes at the heart of American notions of equal opportunity and upward mobility. [p. 118]
Through the use of individual stories and profiles of select universities, Golden provides a compelling picture of inequities in the higher education system.
Gornick, Vivian. Approaching Eye Level. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996).
Starting in the 1980s, narrative began to be seen as a way of knowing and, in turn, a legitimate form of inquiry. Scholar-Practitioners found narrative well suited to investigations of issues embedded in the contexts of their practice. At that time, few examples of scholarly narrative writing were available for novices. Fortunately, that has changed over the years and criteria for judging the quality of narrative inquiry have emerged. Jerome Bruner, an early proponent of narrative inquiry, used the term “verisimilitude” to describe one criterion—i.e., the portrayal of experience from which the narrative emerges. Verisimilitude means the experience is described so vividly that readers can picture a scene and even imagine themselves being present when it occurred. Contributing to the quality of verisimilitude is insight into what the author is thinking and feeling during the experience and by reflecting on it at a later date. Although Approaching Eye Level is a compilation of short essays, it offers an example of writing imbued with the quality of verisimilitude. This book relates to the Scholar-Practitioner quality of Ethical Stewardship (Commitment to Inquiry).
Graff, Gerald. Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).
Graff, a professor of English and education, contends that students enter college ill-prepared for the intellectual work expected of them. Further, he argues that a number factors “make academic intellectual culture opaque or alienating to many students.” Graff suggests that the capacity to make persuasive arguments is inherent in a “life of the mind” and a shared value underlying the diverse array of disciplines comprising universities and colleges. Graff develops these premises along two interconnected lines of thinking. One line focuses on the writing of good persuasive arguments. The other focuses on changes in the academy’s culture that would help students to understand the importance of argument and cultivate that mindset.
The book is potentially useful to three audiences. One is students—particularly those engaged in doctoral study who will be writing either traditional dissertations or those with a more practical orientation (as is currently being explored by the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate). A second is those who are striving to teach writing at both the high school and college level. Third are those whose pedagogical aims include helping students cultivate the habits of mind associated with scholarly practice.
Graff concludes his book with examples of teachers whose classroom practices transcend “the increasingly stale dualism of ‘traditional’ vs. ‘progressive’ methods and create bridges between academic and student discourse.
Hacker, Andrew & Dreifus, Claudia. Higher Education? How Colleges are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids–And What We Can Do about It. New York: Times Books, 2010.
The authors offer an incisive critique of higher education. They start from the premise that “college should be a cultural journey, an intellectual expedition, a voyage confronting new ideas and information, together expanding and deepening our understanding of ourselves and the world.” From there, they argue that anything a college does that diverts resources from this undergraduate teaching purpose should be eliminated. From tenure to atheletics, from reliance on adjuncts to bloated administration, from marketing to lavish amenities–everything comes under close scrutiny. The book concludes with suggestions for streamlining universities to better serve the students they are meant to educate.
Haskie, Miranda, Barbara Mink, & Kathy Tiner (editors). The Future of Navajo Education. Fielding University Press, 2021.
In the current debate about improving the quality of American education, the subject of education in Native Nations is often ignored. And yet, these Nations face a unique set of clallenges, above and beyond those faced by other educational institutions, including preserving and fostering their unique language and cultural values. This book offers a number of case studies illustrating efforts by the Navajo Nation to boost the career prospects of its students with educational programs that safeguard the Navajo language and traditions. Some of these traditions include a focus on organizational change while living in harmony with the natural world and the universe. Others emphasize social responsibility and community service in accordance with the phiolosphy of Navajo culture.
For those who are committed to education for social justice, this book offers an important picture of the challenges and accomplishments of some very remarkable leaders and scholars. For those with an interest in Native American heritage, culture, and history, this book offers a fascinating glimpse into one Nation’s efforts toward self-determination.
Jack, Anthony Abraham. The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges are Failing Disadvantaged Students. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2019.
Anthony Jack begins by acknowledging that elite universities have made some progress in recruiting economically disadvantaged students. His concern, however, focuses on what happens with these students once they arrive on campus. Through his two-year study of students at Harvard, he identifies two distinct groups: The Privileged Poor and the Doubly Disadvantaged Poor. The first group came to Harvard from elited preparatory schools; often boarding schools where they had a chance to acclimate to the social and cultural norms of wealthy peers. The difficulties they experienced upon entering Harvard stemmed more from their lack of monetary resources and concerns about problems occurring with their families back home. Doubly Disadvantaged students struggled not only with monetary difficulties but also with the shock of entering a foreign culture. Nothing in their previous experiences prepared them for the social norms of their affluence of their peers. Jack explores how these difficulties manifest themselves both academically and socially. He recommends several steps that elite universities (or for that matter any higher education institution) could take to support both groups of economically disadvantaged students.
Kendi, Ibram X. How to Be an Antiracist. (New York: One World, 2019).
In this thought-provoking book, Kendi holds a mirror up to racism, seeing within himself the toxic beliefs that he deplores in others. As described on the book cover, “Kendi weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science with his own personal story of awakening to antiracism.” His own unflinching honesty calls forth a similar honesty as readers reflect on their own attitudes about race—their own and others. Kendi argues that it is not enough to say, “I’m not a racist.” Rather, he advocates for “antiracism,” an active resistance to culturally and institutionally embedded hierarchies of privilege based on skin color. If we take to heart Parker Palmer’s assertion that we teach who we are, then this book provides a valuable lens through which to see parts of ourselves that we may prefer to deny. He calls, not for grand protests, but for mindful attention to small actions that can contribute to a more equitable society. Kendi writes with a tone of passionate humanity and humility, sharing his own experiences in a compelling and very readable style.
Kirn, Walter. Lost in the Meritocracy: The Undereducation of an Overachiever. (New York: Doubleday, 2009).
Kirn’s memoir offers a cautionary tale for those obsessed with achieving external academic rewards. Unlike many of his Princeton classmates who prized wealth and prestige, Kirn admits he saw these as “…trivial by-products of improving one’s statistical scores in the great generational tournament of aptitude. Ranking itself was the essential prize.” Using his intelligence and rhetorical skills, Kirn bluffs his way through college coursework never thinking about what he would do when the race for academic standing ended. Almost miraculously, as his final year at Princeton drew to a close, he was awarded a scholarship from the Keasbey Foundation. In the weeks prior to leaving for Oxford, he developed pneumonia. Confined to bed and bored, he began to read books from his mother’s collection of classical literature—really read, not pretend to read as he had in college. And so, he concludes, began he education.
Kurchak, Sarah. I Overcame My Autism and All I got was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder: A Memoir (Madeira Park, British Columbia: Douglas & MdIntyre, 2020).
Increasingly, educators are recognizing the importance of understanding Autism Spectum Disorders from the perspective of those who carry this label. This very readable memoir offers useful insights in the social and emotional difficulties faced by the author as she worked to create a meaningful life for herself. In doing so, she challenges assumptions that neurotypical individuals make about the importance of eye contact, the “dangers” of obsessive interests, the inability to understand emotions, and a host of other preconceptions.
When “normal” is narrowly defined and educators see their job as fitting autistic students into preconceived boxes, they risk marginalizing and demeaning those whom they are meant to serve.
Labaree, David F. A Perfect Mess: The Unlikely Ascendancy of American Higher Education. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2017).
This book gives an extremely useful (and readable) historical perspective on the evolution of higher education from its inception in colonial America to the 21st century. According to educational historian David Labaree, the structure of higher education developed not from any top-down plan but in response to the grassroots needs of multiple constituencies. As a result, the US higher education system comprises a complex hierarchy of private and public colleges and universities that is simultaneously populist, practical and elite. The capacity to serve these multiple functions, Labaree contends, emerged from “four central tensions that run through the system—between the liberal and the professional, between access and advantage, between college as a public good and college as a private good, and between the public college and the private college.” After more than two centuries, the form of higher education in the US has come to embody several defining elements: institutional autonomy, sensitivity to consumers, a broad array of constituencies, ambiguity, and organizational complexity. The last two elements are particularly disconcerting to those whom Nassim Nicholas Taleb would characterize as fragilistas; those for whom order and efficiency are prized above all else. In contrast to those who want to make higher education more transparent, structurally streamlined, and financially efficient, Labaree argues that such “reforms” would undermine the very elements that have allowed the system to grow, adapt, and serve both the public and private good. His concluding thought is, “Why ruin a perfect mess? In order to enjoy its benefits, we need to leave it alone.”
Logsdon, Marjorie Barrett. A Pedagogy of Authority. (Pittsburgh: Learning Moments Press, 2017).
Marjorie Logsdon, a dedicated teacher of high school English literature and composition, explores the experiences that led to her decision to transform her authoritarian pedagogical practice. Believing that sharing power with students is more conducive to writing-as-process (as opposed to writing-as-product), Marge is surprised to encounter resistance, not only from students, but within herself. Writing in the genre of the speculative/personal essay, Marge challenges her assumptions about “being in authority,” “being an authority,” and the “authority of students to author texts.” Drawing from dreams, memories, and experiences, Marge weaves a thoughtful and insightful inquiry into the nuances of pedagogical authority. Using the metaphor of an alchemist’s crucible, she clarifies “matters of text,” “matters of time,” and “matters of meaning.” Regardless of a teacher’s field of study, Marge’s inquiry offers an inspiring example of how dedicated teachers can inquire into the nature of their own pedagogical practice.
Levin, Yuval. A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream; New York: Basic Books, 2020.
Yuval Levin offers a compelling and insightful analysis of American’s disenchantment with our major social institutions. He argues for the formative role of institutions in shaping our conduct as both independent and socially responsible individuals. Contrary to the notion that institutional structures limit individual freedom, Levin points to the way institutions provide a home for enacting important roles. He challenges the current fashion of demeaning institutions and calls for processes to rebuild the integrity of institutions so they are worthy of trust. One chapter focuses on institutions of higher education and provides an important framework for understanding the tensions created by virture of the academy’s multifaceted purposes. This book is useful reading for anyone striving to understand the devisiveness so prevalent in today’s society.
Lukianoff, Greg & Haidt, Jonathan. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting up a Generation for Failure. (New York: Penguin Press, 2018).
This book examine disconcerting trends that have led to a “coddling” of college students whose psychological and emotional fragility is so great they cannot tolerate exposure to ideas contrary to their preconceived views of themselves, others, and the world around them. If, in the past, college was meant to be a time of exploration and discovery, now it frequently seems to be a race to acquire marketable skills. Engaging with complex and vexing questions is at best a distraction and at worst (a growing number of students claim) psychologically damaging. Without dismissing the possibility of real danger, the authors suggest that not every encounter with “difference” (be it ideas, people, or experiences) is a physical, psychic, social, or existential threat. Developing what Angela Duckworth calls grit and Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls “antifragile” means:
…seeking out challenges (rather than eliminating or avoiding everything that “feels unsafe”), freeing yourself from cognitive distortions (rather than always trusting your initial feelings), and taking a generous view of other people, and looking for nuance (rather than assuming the worst about people, within a simplistic us-versus-them morality. (p. 14)
Matousek, Mark. Ethical Wisdom: What Makes Us Good. New York: Doubleday, 2011.
A great deal of attention is given to the skills that educators need to be competent teachers and administrators. Beyond this technical view of practice, however, lies an ethical dimension. By law, children are required to attend school where some receive affirmation of their worth as individuals and others learn they are “failures.” The power to affirm or undermine individuals imparts an ethical duty of care for educators. Yet often, we receive little explicit preparation for this dimension of pratice. Mark Matousek’s book is a resource for teachers and administrators who want to cultivate their understanding of and sensibilities for ethical wisdom.
This book is no abstract, philosophical treatise on ethics. Rather, it offers insight into the evolutionary roots of the human capacity for harm/care, justice/fairness, loyalty, respect/authority. and purity/sacredness. Through down-to-earth examples, Matousek illustrates how these values play out in many areas of our lives. He suggests that a defining moment in human development occurred when neurons that allowed us to look out at the world took an inward turn, allowing us to become uniquely self-aware. This capacity for self-awareness allows us to examine how we live our lives; how we make meaning of them; and how we relate to those who are close to us and those who are “other.”
Pedagogical wisdom involves knowing the right thing to do, at the right time, with a particular person, within specific circumstances. Ethical wisdom can help us develop the sensibilities needed to make these judgments.
Montgomery, Sy. The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness (New York: ATRIA Books, 2015).
Montgomery is a wonderful story-teller, seamlessly weaving scientific information with her personal encounters with octopuses. In doing so, she offers a meditation on the nature of consciousness. Thus, the book can be an excellent resource for a variety of courses. For STEAM classes, it offers both for its factual content and aethetic portrayal of these amazing creatures. (A Study Guide is available.) For courses on educational psychology, it can challenge assumptions about the uniqueness of human consciousness and what it means to learn. For environmental studies, it raises important questions about human responsibilities for other forms of life. Beyond such pedagogical purposes, The Soul of an Octopus is an enjoyable read for those seeking a respite from the hectic pace of work and life.
Moore Johnson, Susan. Where Teachers Thrive: Organizing Schools for Success. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2019.
Drawing from three intensive studies, the author details a variety of conditions contributing to teacher satisfaction, student success, and generative school environments. She explores the key role of principals in fostering a culture of inclusiveness in which teachers’ expertise is recognized, valued, and used to guide decisions about curriculum, instruction, disciplinary practices, and teacher development and evaluation. Contrary to common assumptions about the inevitability of school failure in low-income, distressed communities, Johnson’s research offers compelling examples of schools that succeed (even excel) even in the face of social and economic challenges. The book can be an important text for any program preparing both educational leaders and teachers, as well as crucial reading for policy makers and school reform advocates.
Muller, Jerry Z. The Tyranny of Metrics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018).
This book offers a balanced and insightful analysis of how measurement criteria are used and misused in efforts to hold public institutions accountable. The author’s major thesis can be summarized with his contention, “There are things that can be measured. There are things that are worth measuring. but what can be measured is not always what is worth measuring; what gets measured may have no relationship to what we really want to know. the costs of measuring may be greater than the benefits. The things that get measured may draw effort away from the things we really care about. And measurements may provide us with distorted knowledge–knowledge that seems solid but is acutally deceptive.” Muller’s argument is not against measurement per se, but against an over-reaching use of data metrics in the absence of professional judgment and experience. His chapters on higher education and public education serve as cautionary tales for all ethical professionals; it is a call to think carefully about how, when, and why numeric data are used to assess student learning, teacher performance, and school accountability. Although the subject may seem somewhat dry, Muller’s style of writing makes a complicated subject both readabe and understandable. His use of examples makes the tyranny of dysfunctionally used metrics all to real.
Nash, Robert J. Liberating Scholarly Writing: The Power of Personal Narrative. (New York: Teachers College Press, 2004).
This book is highly recommended for Scholar-Practitioners who are enrolled in graduate programs that require a thesis or dissertation. Nash offers a very useful explanation of the nature of personal scholarly writing as well as some tentative guidelines (not formulas or rules) that contribute to the quality and credibility of this form of writing. Drawing from his experience as a teacher, he provides many examples of students’ efforts to shift into a mindset conducive to writing scholarly personal narratives. His concluding chapter addresses several thorny issues that underlie this form of writing.
Palmer, Parker J. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of A Teacher’s Life. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1998).
Parker Palmer’s now classic work, The Courage to Teach, offers deeply inspiring insights into the challenges of teaching with humanity and compassion. It is an exceptional example of the Scholar-Practitioner quality of Metacognitive Reflection and offers a compelling portrait of an educator striving to maintain his integrity within the complexity of a teaching life. The book is now available in a 20th Anniversary Edition.
Parker J. Palmer is the Founder and Senior Partner Emeritus of the Center for Courage & Renewal. The link to this website is http://www.couragerenewal.org/about/
For more of Palmer’s views on teaching see the video section of the S-P Library.
Perry, Jill Alexa, editor. The EdD and the Scholarly Practitioner: The CPED Path. (Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2016).
This edited book highlights ideas emerging from the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED), a collaborative of schools of education in the United States, Canada, and New Zealand. Each contributor shares their institution’s experiences in developing and implementing changes to make doctoral education more relevant to the demands of practice. This volume may be of particular interest to doctoral students who are trying to conceptualize a dissertation and to faculty who are engaged in re-visioning their doctoral programs. Educators who want more information about the CPED can find the link in the Websites section of the S-P Library.
Perry, Jill Alexa & Carlson, David Lee. In Their Own Words: A Journey to the Stewardship of the Practice in Education. (Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2013).
This edited book is a companion to The EdD and the Scholarly Practitioner: The CPED Path. It “tells the reader a story of transformation providing several narratives that describe each graduate’s progression through their doctoral studies.” The nature of study at the doctoral level is often not immediately apparent. Reading how others have navigated this new intellectual terrain and what they came to value as a result of their efforts, can be very helpful to those embarking on the doctoral process. Those who shared their stories exemplify the Scholar-Practitioner quality of ethical stewardship—contributing to the advancement of the profession. Their intellectual journeys can contribute to thinking about the Scholar-Practitioner quality of Metacognitive Reflection.
Ravitch, Diane. Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools. New York: Alfred A. Knopp, 2020.
This book is must reading for anyone who cares about our nation’s public schools. With laser-like precision, Diane Ravitch reveals the motives and strategies of those who want to privatize education for corporate profit. Privatization through charter schools and vouchers is not a Reform Movement, she contends. Rather, it is a Disruption Movement which harms our countries most vulnerable students and the communities in which they live. With stories, facts and figures, Ravitch shows how both conservative and liberal Democrats and Republicans have been seduced by the false logic that rigid standards and obsessive testing will produce greater learning among students and improvement of schools. With equal passion, Ravitch details the efforts of teachers, administrators, parents, and union leaders to resist privatization and to fight for the country’s public schools. The inspiring stories of The Resistance Movement are powerful examples of democracy in action. Ravitch and other dedicated educators continue to maintain a vigilant eye on the Disrupters and to provide information to Resisters through the Network for Public Education.
Ricardson, Laurel. Writing Strategies: Reaching Diverse Audiences. Qualitative Research Methods Series, 21. (Newbury Park, NJ: Sage, 1990).
Laurel Richardson was among the early advocates for qualitative research and her monograph Writing Strategies still offers useful perspectives for Scholar-Practitioners who are engaged in context-embedded inquiries. All writing adheres to certain conventions—e.g., voice, stance, and tone. Depending on the purpose of the writing and the intended audience, specific conventions will vary. For example, scientific articles are typically written in the third person to convey a sense of objectivity. Practice-based narratives, however, are more typically written in the first person to signal that the ideas presented are from the author’s perspective. Trouble arises when an author follows a set of conventions which readers neither expect nor understand. Even more trouble occurs when authors themselves are not clear about the conventions they should follow for a particular writing project. Richardson provides a useful explanation of these differences in convention, with particular attention on narrative writing. Her distinction among five forms of narrative—everyday life, autobiography, biography, the cultural story, and the collective story—are helpful in understanding how Scholar-Practitioners move from personal experience to broader conceptualization of issues. This book can be especially helpful to Scholar-Practitioners who are enrolled in graduate programs that require a thesis or dissertation. It relates to the Scholar-Practitioner qualities of Ethical Stewardship (Commitment to Inquiry) and Metacognitive Reflection.
Said, Edward W. Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures (New York: Pantheon Books, 1994).
Although this book is almost 30 years old, it may be more relevant that ever in this time of endless sound bites, rampant misinformation, and the substitution of personal bias for reasoned argument. In a series of short essays, Said explores the meaning of “being an intellectual” and the role of intellectuals in society. Of particular relevance to educators today is his definition of “professionalism.” I find his choice of that term somewhat disquieting as teachers have long fought to be recognized as professionals. Said, however, uses the term “professionalism” in a very particular way:
By professionalism I mean thinking of your work as an intellectual as something you do for a living, between the hours of nine and five with one eye on the clock, and another cocked at what is considered to be proper, professional behavior–not rocking the boat, not straying outside the accepted paradigms or limits, making yourself marketable and above all presentable, hence uncontroverial and unpolitical and “objective.”
Teachers are under tremendous pressure to be “accountable.” What they should be accountable for and how that accountability is enforced are all too often imposed by politicians with little understanding of the complexities of teaching. One consequence of such pressure has been disillusionment among beginning teachers and demorolization among experienced teachers. Some respond by leaving the teaching; others lapse into Said’s definition of “professionalism.” Neither response serves the needs of society. Said raises the questions: how does one speak the truth? What truth? For whom and where? Adapting these to the realm of education, I would ask: how does one speak the truth of education; where can that truth be spoken; and how can such truth bespoken not by the lone practitioner, but by networks of practitioners who work in concet with each other? In other words, in what ways can teachers enact the role of intellectual for the well-being of their students and the social institution of education?
Santoro, Doris A. Demoralized: Why Teachers Leave the Profession They Love and How They Can Stay (Cambridge: Harvard Education Press, 2018).
The author draws upon interviews with beginning and experienced teachers to make a crucial distinction between “burnout” and “demoralization.” When burnout is seen as the reason that teachers leave the profession too early, the problem is framed as a personal/individual failure. Demoralization, on the other hand, points to systemic obstacles that undermine the very purpose of education and teachers’ commitment to effective, ethical practice. Excerpts from the interviews provide examples of teachers’ struggles to respond to policies and practices that compromise the moral center of their teaching. Santoro offers an insightful, multi-focused model for the “re-moralization” of teaching. This very readable book is highly recommended for all teachers regardless of where they are in their career. For educational administers/leaders, this book should be required reading as they play a pivotal role in contributing to or buffering the forces that contribute to demoralization.
Santoro, Doris A. & Cain, Lizabeth. Principled Resistance: How Teachers Resolve Ethical Dilemmas. Harvard Education Press, 2018.
This book is must reading for any teacher or administrator who is feeling beleaguered and whose concerns are being ignored or dismissed. One debilitating aspect of such situations is the feeling of isolation; as though you are the only one who sees or cares about a problem. This edited collection offers stories of those who have resisted conditions they considered to be detrimental to the education of children and/or a violation of their professional ethics. As stated in the description on the book’s cover, “Principled Resistance brings together senior scholars and activist teachers to explore the concept of resistance as a necessary response to mandates that conflict with their understanding of quality teaching. The contributors also show the steps teachers take, in their reasoning and in their actions, to resist policies they are expected to enact. This volume offers a critical and unique resource for teacher educators who are preparing prospective teachers to navigate the contentious terrain of educational politics, teachers who are interested in leading change, and others interested in educational ethics.”
Schneider, Jack & Jennifer Berkshire. A Wolf at the Schooplhouse Door (New York: The New Press, 2020.
In this book, Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire, co-hosts of the popular education podcast Have You Heard, lay out the increasingly potent network of conservative elected officials, advocacy groups, funders, and think tanks that have aligned behind a radical vision to unmake public education. They describe the dogma underpinning the work of the dismantlers and how it fits into the current political context, giving readers an up-close look at the policies–school vouchers, the war on teachers’ unions, tax credit scholarships, virtual schools, and more–driving the movement’s agenda. Finally, they look forward, surveying the world the dismantlers threaten to build. (From book jacket.)
Those interested in this book may also be interested in reading Slaying Goliath by Diane Ravitch.
Schwartz, Barry & Sharpe, Kenneth. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. (New York: Riverhead Books, 2010).
Schwartz and Sharpe offer an insightful analysis of the ways in which a rule-driven mentality is undermining the discretionary judgment of professionals, including educators. Contrary to the idea that wisdom is some esoteric quality, they examine the notion of practical wisdom. As they say: The term practical wisdom sounds like an oxymoron to modern ears. We tend to think of “wisdom” as the opposite of “practical.” Wisdom is about abstract, ethereal matters like “the way” or “the good” or “the truth” or “the path.” And we tend to think that wisdom is something for sages, gurus, rabbis, and scholars—for white-bearded wizards like Harry Potter’s mentor, Dumbledore. Aristotle’s teacher, Plato, shared this view that wisdom was theoretical and abstract, and the gift of only a few. But Aristotle disagreed. He thought that our fundamental social practices constantly demanded choices—like when to be loyal to a friend, or how to be fair, or how to confront risk, or when and how to be angry—and that making the right choices demanded wisdom. To take the example of anger, the central question for Aristotle was not whether anger was good or bad, or the abstract question about what the nature of the “good” in fact was. It was the particular and concrete issue of what to do in a particular circumstance: who to be angry at, for how long, in what way, and for what purpose. The wisdom to answer such questions and to act rightly was distinctly practical, not theoretical. It depended on our ability to perceive the situation, to have the appropriate feelings or desires about it, to deliberate about what was appropriate in these circumstances, and to act. (p. 5) Teachers are confronted daily with a never-ending stream of situations that demand action. So, too, are school administrators. While rules may provide helpful guides to thinking, they are not sufficient for choosing what might be most appropriate in a given situation. For that, wisdom is necessary. Schwartz and Sharpe explore the various aspects of wisdom and illustrate them with down-to-earth examples drawn from a wide range of professions, including education. Scholar-practitioners are committed to developing their own reservoir of wisdom, sharing that wisdom with others, and supporting the development of wisdom among colleagues. For this reason, Practical Wisdom, contributes to deeper understanding of the Scholar-Practitioner qualities of pedagogical wisdom, contextual literacy, and ethical stewardship.
Scribner, Campbell F. & Warnick, Bryan R. Spare the Rod: Punishment and the Moral Community of Schools. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2021.
This book offers a thoughtful historical perspective on the issue of corporal punishment in US Schools. As the authors trace changes in social attitudes about children and the role of punishment, they explain how disciplinary practices in schools often lack any educative value and are, therefore, at odds with the very purpose of schooling. They offer a thoughtful rationale for a restorative justice model of discipline which all thoughtful and ethical educators should consider.
Sloman, Steven & Fernbach, Philip. The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone. (New York: Riverhead Books, 2017).
Sloman and Fernbach are cognitive scientists whose book explores the communal nature of knowledge. This extremely readable book provides an interesting perspective for educators by challenging the narrow conception of individual intelligence. Humans, they contend, have a limited capacity to retain a large quantity of detailed information. The human brain evolved so that we retain information that helps us to connect actions with cause and effect. As they explain: Just as people don’t think only associatively (as Pavlov thought we do), people do not reason via logical deduction. We reason by causal analysis. People make inferences by reasoning about the way the world works. We think about how causes produce effects, what kinds of things disable or prevent effects, and what factors must be in place for causes to have their influence. Rather than thinking in terms of propositional logic, the logic that tells us whether a statement is true or false, people think in terms of causal logic, the logic of causation that incorporates knowledge about how events actually come about in order to reach conclusions. [p, 56] In the animal world, only humans have the capacity to look back from an effect and speculate about its causes. The capacity to discern patterns between cause and effect allows us to understand what is happening when we encounter new events. Coupled with this a powerful conceptual ability is the ability to exchange knowledge with others in order to accomplish our purposes. We do not need in-depth knowledge regarding every aspect of an effort. We need the capacity to work within knowledge communities where various members can contribute their specialized expertise. As Sloman and Ferbach observe; Intelligence resides in the community and not in any individual. So decision-making procedures that elicit the wisdom of the community are likely to produce better outcomes than procedures that depend on the relative ignorance of lone individuals A strong leader is one who know how to inspire a community and take advantage of the knowledge within it, and who can delegate responsibility to those with most expertise. [p. 259] This view of communal intelligence has implications for how we teach students within classrooms, how we organize schools as learning communities, and how we pursue our own professional development.
Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. (New York: Random House, 2012).
This is not a particularly easy book to read, but contains a number of interesting ideas about the dangers of rigid systems. Taleb makes the argument that
Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile.
Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better. This property is behind everything that has changed with time: evolution, culture, ideas, revolutions, political systems, technological innovation, cultural and economic success, corporate survival, good recipes,…the rise of cities, cultures, legal systems, equatorial forests, bacterial resistance…even our own existence as a species on this planet. And antifragility determines the boundary between what is living and organic (or complex), say, the human body, and what is inert, say, a physical object like the stapler on your desk. (pp. 3-4)
Overly prescriptive policies, regulations, and rules undermine the capacity of systems to respond quickly, flexibly, and creatively to changing environments. As good educators know, the best learning often occurs in unexpected, unscripted moments of classroom life. “Fragilistas” (those who value orderliness, stability, and predictability) might argue that learning cannot be left to such serendipity. Best practices are needed to assure that learning takes place. Improvement of educational systems engineered through “improvement science” might well carry the risk of enhancing fragility
… by suppressing randomness and volatility…Much of our modern structured, world has been harming us with top-down policies and contraptions…which do precisely this: an insult to the antifragility of systems. (p. 5)
Tough, Paul. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character. Boston: Houghton, Miffline, Harcourt, 2012.
What makes the difference between students who succeed and those who drop out of school? What accounts for the achievement gap between students growing up in poverty and those growing up in middle or upper income families? This extremely readable book is a distillation of journalist Paul Tough’s research on these two questions. Neuroscientists who are studying brain development offer evidence that prolonged stress has profoundly damaging and long-lasting effects on the pre-frontal cortext, the part of the brain responsible for “executive functions”–decision-making, persistence, delayed gratification, resilience, and a host of other qualities often thought of as “character traits.” Studies have shown that trying to teach these qualities in the same way cognitive skills are taught is not effective. Tough offers examples of teachers and programs that are taking a different approach–not talking to students about these qualities, but immersing and supporting students in experiences that call upon these qualities for success. Although the book focuses primarily on under-achieving students experiencing stress in impoverished neighborhoods, the information is relevant to any educator who is committed to helping children achieve their full potential. In the final chapter, Tough moves from a focus on exemplary teachers and programs to the broader issue of public policy and school reform initiatives. He offers several compelling insights into the reasons we often find it uncomfortable to talk about the influence of family on children’s success or failure.
Tough, Paul. Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.
In this follow-up to his New York Times bestseller, How Children Succeed, journalist Paul Tough continues to explore a mode of education that can help children succeed, in school and beyond. Although his focus is children living in poverty, he provides a perspective of education that is applicable to all children. In his very readable style, Tough provides examples of program structured to provide children with a sense of belonging, autonomy and competence. Within this environment, children suffering from the effects of toxic stress can begin to develop academic perseverance, a quality less disadvantaged children assimilate more naturally in their home environment. Data from multiple studies indicate that academic perseverance leads to outcomes of success well beyond the confines of school. Educational environments structured to nurture a sense of belonging, autonomy and competence create conditions for deeper learning, a capacity essential in the 21st century. Tough concludes with three suggestions for the improvement of education. “First, we need to change our policies…Second, we need to change our practices…Finally, we need to change our way of thinking.” The first suggestion underscores the importance of the scholar-practitioner quality of contextual literacy. Teachers, principals, and superintendents may not be in a position to change policy—but they can advocate for educational policies that will benefit children. Tough’s second suggestion points to the importance of scholar-practitioner’s pedagogical wisdom. Most teachers and administrators enter the profession of education with a desire to make a difference in children’s lives. Sometimes it seems our efforts are pointless in the face of many systemic obstacles. Yet, caring educators do have a chance to make a difference, even in small ways. The third suggestion relates to the scholar-practitioner qualities of theoretical understanding, ethical stewardship, and aesthetic imagination. We all have a responsibility to understand how emerging neuroscientific findings can help us to re-vision education and our roles as teachers and administrators.
Tough, Paul. The Years that Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019
In this book, Paul Tough turns his investigative journalism skills to the issue of social inequalities in higher education. He offers a thoughtful analysis of the ways in which the higher education system makes it extremely difficult for bright, hardworking children from low socio-economic backgrounds to gain access to colleges and universities. Incorporating the stories of young, striving students, he illuminates the pain and frustrations that they often experience if they do manage to enroll in college. Citing studies of matriculation and graduation rates, he lays bare the discriminatory reality behind the claims of campus diversity. He critiques the claims that the SAT is a more reliable predictor of college success than a student’s high school grades and that the standardized test offers an objective criterion for admitting or rejecting college applicants. Through vignettes of programs, he illustrates the types of support that can lead to successful completion of college among economically disadvantaged students. He contrasts the social values that made the GI Bill possible with the eroding commitment of public funds for higher education. He concludes with a challenge to all of us–if a college degree is necessary to lift individuals and families out of poverty, then what obligation do we as a society have to make this a feasible opportunity.
Ueland, Brenda. If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit. (Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 1987).
As the title makes clear, this book does not offer a “how-to” approach to writing. Ueland’s aim is to free individuals from the inhibitions that keep them from writing. Through a series of essays, she encourages readers to claim their innate talents, use their imagination, and express their ideas. One word in the book’s title deserves special mention—the “if.” Many individuals have no desire to write and may dismiss the book as irrelevant. Scholar-Practitioners, however, are often called upon to write. Those who dread such writing tasks may find Ueland’s views the catalyst they need to embrace their inner writer. This book relates to the Scholar-Practitioner qualities of Ethical Stewardship (Commitment to Inquiry) and Aesthetic Imagination.