Friday, February 25, 2011

Great Reads

Last summer I asked the entire staff at Park Day School to read The Reading Zone by Nancie Atwell and we have been greatly influenced by her philosophy about teaching reading. One of the components that is central to her program is to have kids share with one another brief reviews and descriptions of books they have read. I thought I would join in the fun since I know parents have often expressed an interest in knowing what books and authors influence our work.

Last year (and over the past few weeks) I enjoyed several books focused on diversity, education, and child-rearing that I wanted to share with you if you are in the market for a few good reads.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (The New Press, 2010)

I believe this should be required reading for anyone living in Oakland, California (or thereabouts), where the reality and horror of mass incarceration of African American males appears (or, in some cases disappears) before our very eyes. This new work by Michelle Alexander brings great scholarship to a discussion that can often wane to the polemic. For a progressive school educator (and parent community), interested in stretching to examine questions about race, this is must reading.

The Parents We Mean To Be by Rick Weissbourd (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009)

Hot on the independent school circuit, this book on parenting (and appropriate for teachers) asserts that perhaps our intent focus on our children’s happiness may not be in their best interests. Are kids today overly fragile or self-involved?  Weissbourd’s provocative work helps parents focus on morality – not the teaching of it – but the guidance and encouragement of our children “to deal with the emotions, such as the fear of being a pariah or a loser, that cause them to transgress,” and “to help children develop a deep commitment to…values that can override other needs and goals.” The author brings his own field research to the equation. The book evokes similar messages as those proffered by Alfie Kohn (Punished by Rewards), and Wendy Mogul (Blessings of a Skinned Knee, and Blessings of an A-).

Raising Cain by Michael Thompson Ph.D and Dan Kindlon (Ballantine Books, 2000); Speaking of Boys: Answers to the Most Asked Questions About Raising Sons by Michael Thompson Ph.D (Ballantine Books, 2000), and It’s a Boy: Your Son’s Development from Birth to Age 18 by Michael Thompson, Ph. D, and Teresa Barker(Ballentine, 2008)

Do you have a boy? Do you know a boy? I want to remind everyone of the good works about raising boys by a great friend to the independent school community, Michael Thompson, Ph.D.  As successful as Mary Pipher (Reviving Ophelia) was to raising our daughters, Thompson and his co-authors have created foundational resource books for understanding and nurturing our boys.

Raising Happiness by Christine Carter, Ph.D. (Ballantine Books, 2010)
I sat on a panel this year with Christine Carter at the EBISA Symposium, attended by the teachers from Park Day School and dozens of other Easy Bay Schools, where she talked about her work in helping kids and parents enjoy a more joyful life. In the complicated times in which we live, I hardly need to say more; just -  this book is wonderful!

• The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer (Josey-Bass, 1998, 2007)
This past Fall, I dusted off one of my favorites as the school year got underway. What inspires teachers and motivates them to bring their passions to teaching? Parents, this book provides insights into the world of teachers. Parker Palmer has an international following among teachers, though his books span a gamut of topics beyond education. Many teachers choose to pursue their careers for reasons of the heart; what happens if and when they lose heart? How do they keep alight the fires of their passions? Palmer speaks to them poignantly.

Teaching the Taboo: Courage and Imagination in the Classroom by Rick Ayers and William Ayers (Teachers College Press, 2011)
Hot off the presses, this book by former Park Day School parent Rick Ayers and his brother, Bill brings in relief the way teachers are grappling with many of the big issues of our time. What I love about the book is its honesty; these brother are wonderful story tellers, ethnographers, and educational activists, not afraid to raise fundamental questions, even about the way our educational system is organized. Buckle up for this courageous book – another wonderful insight into the world of teachers. (BTW, Bill Ayers is one of the country’s foremost authorities and champions of progressive education. I have been inspired by his books and his talks for many years. He is a senior university scholar at the University of Chicago and a school reform activist. Rick started the CAS small school program at Berkeley High School, and is completing his doctoral work; his son Max graduated from PDS in the class of 2000). 

(From a newsletter to parents)