When kids filed into class a couple of months ago, they were told what they would be reading in the year ahead. With the chilly weather now bearing down upon us, we celebrate the beginning of fireside reading season. It’s finally time for the grownups in our students’ lives — parents, teachers, and counselors — to create our own winter reading lists.
‘Tis the season to figure out what to put on your must-read list. One goal of Funderstanding is to foster discussion about best practices in education because we all benefit from a society that is engaged in and passionate about our educational systems. We are, in some sense, formed by what we read, and Funderstanding speaks to those hoping to become better-informed consumers and participants in education. With that in mind, please consider some of the suggested reading below.
Better Together is the much-overlooked optimistic follow-up to Bowling Alone. In the earlier book, Robert D. Putnam posits and laments a trend toward isolation in American society. Better Together celebrates successful grassroots community-building efforts across the country. Ranging from public school boosterism to public health initiatives, Putnam offers hope that we can, indeed, be Better Together.
John Taylor Gatto takes it upon himself to question conventional wisdom and honor no educational sacred cows in Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. Gatto’s premise and his language are deliberately, and perhaps exaggeratedly, bleak, but even his hyperbole will make you think.
Don’t be scared away by the title: Moonwalking with Einstein is a fascinating exploration of memory. Author Joshua Foer spent a year in intense memory training as part of a successful effort to reach the U.S. Memory Championship. Along the way, he researched the science of memory, trained with a breed he calls “mental athletes,” and apprenticed himself to mentalists and neurologists. He comes to lament that rote memorization has fallen out of contemporary educational fashion. Foer suggests that a return to memorization will address the historical and cultural illiteracy of American teens. On memorizing the Gettysburg Address or King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Foer writes, “Memory is how we transmit virtues and values. Memory is like a spiderweb that catches new information. The more it catches, the bigger it grows. And the bigger it grows, the more it catches.”
Exactly how does national policy impact your local school? Familiarize yourself with the broader points of Race to the Top, the Obama administration’s formula for rewarding academic achievement in our public schools. It’s likely the governor and gubernatorial hopefuls of your state have touted or lambasted your state’s Race to the Top financial performance. If you pay taxes, you should care about the Race to the Top.
Anything bookmarked on your children’s computers should be at the top of your reading list. You may not be a fan of the content, but if they’re taking it in, then consider yourself interested. Maybe your teenager checks in with HuffPo several times a day – good for you. More likely, you’ll find yourself dumbfounded by Kardashian tweets, fantasy baseball blogs or Tumblr nonsense. The point is that you should be skimming what they’re reading, if for no other reason than to be able to have a frappucino-length conversation with them.
Re-read a few books you remember enjoying when you were your kids’ ages. Do they still speak to you? Pass them along to your kids, cross your fingers, and hope for a generational connection to spark. Keep in mind that there are graphic novel versions of almost anything and everything out there. Some editions water down the text for young readers, while others stay faithful to the original language while condensing the action. And some, like Muppet Snow White, are just plain fun.
I just read my school district’s Code of Conduct and learned more than I cared to about the state of legal-liability-flavored policy in our public schools. Whether for amusement or edification, try something new and actually read the contracts your schools demand that parents and/or students sign. While you’re visiting the school website, take a look at the school budget. How much is being spent on capital improvements? Technology acquisition? Sports?
Like Joshua Foer’s beautiful memory-as-web imagery, our lifelong reading list is a cumulative project, growing larger and more complex as we add to the weave. This winter, curl up with something that expands your reading spiderweb. Happy reading!