Happy unofficial beginning to summer 2011 from steamy Chicago! I think I have read more in this past school year, than in any of my previous years as a teacher. But with summer, comes new opportunities for rejuvenation through literature, and I hope to get some recommendations in the comments below. In turn, I recommend the following three books for summer reading:
For a better education system: The Death and Life fo the Great American School: How Testing a Choice are Undermining America (Diane Ravitch)
For a better understanding of ourselves: The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything (Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D)
For a better, stronger, community: Dynamics of Organizing: Building Power by Developing the Human Spirit (Shel Trapp)
If the above titles are any indication, I am not much for fiction reading, yet all three authors are vivid story-tellers in their own right and keep the readers attention as they intertwine personal story with global relevance. I leave the praise and scorn to the paid literary critics, but provide a little taste below as to why each of these books has influenced my daily life.
Much has already been said about Ravitch’s book. She has become the new champion of educators in the classroom, touring the country and tweeting voraciously about the cultural hoax of high-stakes testing and corporate-style reform. I learned from her book how we got to where we are now: how the educational standards movement in the 1980s and 90s was more-or-less high-jacked by a high-stakes Testing initiative spearheaded by publishing companies.
Smartly, she makes no apologies for being a part of that history, but rather she admits she made mistakes, and decidedly charts a new course, from where, in my opinion, Robinson starts his book.
The Element has been the book this year that I have quoted most to my friends, colleagues and students. It is a story (not an instruction manual) of creativity and value. Personal and societal value. The premise is that 1) we need to value creativity in society 2) there are infinite ways to be creative and 3) we need to change schooling and learning to reflect the diversity of the learning process.
In many ways,The Element is a (hilarious) counterpart to Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s Flow (1990), the seminal book based on his research on Optimal Experience, the state of attention and motivation that makes us most happy, or in a state of flow. According to Robinson, it is a point at which we can all achieve.
While the first two authors are quite prolific in the mainstream and internet media, Trapp is a much less known name, but a man whose works have directly and indirectly influenced thousands across Chicago and the United States. Trapp, one of the founders of the National Training and Information Center reflects on how his work in building coalitions in Chicago had helped individuals to create real, tangible changes, and build- less tangible but equally real and infinitely more important – dignity in those with whom he organized.
As I have become more in tune with the politics of organizing and teaching in Chicago, it is Trapp’s story that has had the largest emotional impact on my work. I should be asking myself: Is what I am doing, helping to build dignity in __X__ ? If I am not helping to build dignity in my students, their families, my colleagues, my building, or myself, I need to be rethinking how and why I am undertaking a task.
So I look forward to shared recommendations, and I wish all a reflective, rejuvenating summer. Stay tuned, as I will be blogging through the heat.