Bookshelf: Ideas for Secondary School Teachers, with a Bent Toward the Digital

In each of the last two academic years, I’ve made short lists of books I’ve liked, related mostly (but not exclusively) to secondary education and the digital world, to share with the faculty of Phillips Academy.  We buy a stack of each of the books, placed on the shelf outside my office, and share them as “community reads.”  This list — admittedly eclectic — covers those past two installments, plus a few additional books that have been in circulation on our campus for various reasons.

Fall, 2013 List:

Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald, Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People (Delacorte, 2013)

Why I liked it: I am huge fan of Prof. Banaji’s and her research into our inherent biases.  The book is a public-facing version of the research she’s published for years.  Especially in intentionally diverse communities, such as schools and universities, it’s my firm view that we all have to be aware of our biases, which can come as a big surprise sometimes, as Banaji and her co-author make clear.

Andrew Delbanco, College: What is Was, Is, and Should Be (Princeton, 2012)

Why I liked it: I am also a fan of Prof. Delbanco’s and his work on American history and literature (dating back to when he taught American studies at Harvard, and through his exciting work at Columbia).  Here, he turns to the broad, public issue of what college ought to be.  His frame of reference is, in many respects, “the traditional four-year college experience” that looms in the imagination — probably in our students’ imagination, too.  Familiar themes of the history and importance of the Pell grant come together with perhaps less familiar themes of the continuing Puritan influence on our communities of learners.

Theodore Sizer, The New American High School (Jossey-Bass, 2013)

Why I liked it: Theodore Sizer is a giant in 20th century educational theory and practice — and also served as Phillips Academy’s distinguished 12th head of school.  Nancy Faust Sizer, who wrote the introduction, sent me an early copy, and I hugely enjoyed reading it.  Ted Sizer wrote this book and nearly published it before his death; Nancy and their editor brought it to fruition just recently.  For those who have read the Horace trilogy, The Students Are Watching Us, The Red Pencil, and other Sizer works, much in this new synthesis will sound familiar and enriching; for those who have not, especially those new to Sizer’s ideas in general, it is a great introduction to his life’s work, which continues to have reverberations through our Academy today.  (I have in mind a present-day Andover update to the short chapter, the ninth, on Technology.)

Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Harper, 2007)

Why I liked it: This book came out several years ago, and I’ve been meaning to read it since then; I finally managed it this summer.  It’s an amazing synthesis of hundreds of studies of how the brain works, especially with respect to reading, by a Tufts prof, Maryanne Wolf, who specializes in early childhood education.  I learned an enormous amount from Wolf’s book, in terms of history, practice, and neuroscientific findings.  The emphasis falls on younger kids than ours, but the implications for our student body are clear — especially for those students who start out with less in terms of parents reading to them, encouraging them to read, and so forth at an early age.

Paul Yoon, Snow Hunters (Simon & Shuster, 2013)

Why I liked it: How could I not?  Paul Yoon, this year’s writer-in-residence at Phillips Academy, has written a brand-new, engaging, beautifully crafted novel.  I wished it had gone on much longer!  (For those who want to keep reading beyond the end of Snow Hunters, Paul’s first book, Once the Shore, is a collection of eight exquisite stories.)  His recent positive NYTimes Book Review piece, along with much else in the way of positive critical review, have been well-earned.

Leonard Sax, Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls (Basic Books, 2011)

Why I liked it: “Liked” in a way is the wrong word — this is a hard book, on a hard topic — but Dr. Sax has written an effective, constructive, important look at a large segment of our population in a boarding school, and it’s relevant to our entire population here.  I especially recommend it for those working in a girls’ dorm or coaching a girls’ team, though I think everyone in a residential learning community would benefit from reading it.

Catherine Steiner-Adair: The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age (Harper, 2013)

Why I liked it: Catherine Steiner-Adair is a former colleague of ours at Phillips Academy, as school psychologist (which she references on p. 253!).  Her new book is a helpful contribution to the literature about parenting and kids growing up in a digital era, with emphasis on social and family relationships.  (Steiner-Adair is already booked as a speaker for “Wellness Week” later in our academic year at Phillips Academy.)

Ethan Zuckerman: Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection (Norton, 2013)

Why I liked it: This book is a wonderful look at the implications of the digital age, from a global perspective.  Ethan Zuckerman is a former colleague of mine at the Berkman Center, now on the faculty at MIT, and is one of the finest minds in my field (and one of the finest people you’ll ever meet).  He’s worked on this book for years, and his devotion has paid off, in the form of both many new insights and lots of great narratives about life as a “digital cosmopolitan.”  (I admit, it’s not as obvious fit on this list for secondary school teachers, but I couldn’t help myself — and I really do think any teacher will get a lot from it in terms of what we should be aspiring to do in teaching about global citizenship, ethics, and morality in the biggest sense of the terms.)  See @ethanz just about everywhere, including Twitter.

Spring, 2013 List:

Cathy Davidson, Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century (Penguin, 2012)

Why I liked it: Lots of great material about how learning happens, from a brain science and generally interdisciplinary point of view.  Among many other things, she puts Katie Salen’s work — which we examined last year at PA and continue to follow — in context, p. 87 ff.  Cathy’s work is controversial and provocative — in a very good way.  If you ever have a chance to hear her present, take it!

Steven Johnson, Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age (Riverhead, 2012)

Why I liked it: The furthest afield from education per se of the books on this list, but it’s a great theoretical look at the importance of networks and network design.  Consider his argument about the capacity for reinvention, p. 119, ff.  Steven is a clever, concise writer — and everything he’s published is worth thinking about, in my experience.  The book is beautifully written and concise; secondary school teachers will likely get an interesting perspective on the future from it.

Salman Khan, The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined (Twelve, 2012)

Why I liked it:  If you think you know Sal Khan and Khan Academy based on what you’ve seen on his web site, think again.  This is a very impressive, thoughtful book, about education broadly conceived.  His ideas and recommendations encompass his core work of “putting great short videos and exercises on the web for millions of people to use” (which is, itself, very cool) and extend far beyond it.  Sal and his team are pretty amazing — we at PA are actively collaborating with them on, which has been incredibly interesting — and I think very well of his new book.

Tony Wagner, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World (Scribner, 2012)

Why I liked it: I’m generally a big fan of Tony’s work, so I was not surprised to like this new book.  Along with his book on the Global Achievement Gap, this book leans forward and into lots of important trends and opportunities in education.  I liked Chapter 5: Innovating Learning in particular.  Though it may be more focused on higher ed than on the secondary school environment, he applies lessons from terrific learning institutions, like the MIT Media Lab (pp. 181-4), to teaching and learning more broadly.

A few more, to close out this list:

Here are a last few that many of us read on the Phillips Academy campus, on related themes and in various contexts:

David Burstein, Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping Our World (Beacon, 2013)

Why I liked it: This book is an updated look at many of the issues that Urs Gasser and I took up in Born Digital, by a young and insightful author.)

Clay Christensen et al., Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (McGraw-Hill, 2008)

Why I liked it: Whether you agree with the conclusions or not, this book is a must-read for anyone thinking about education and business models — which should be all of us interested in the future of teaching, learning, the profession, and the related institutions.)

Beth Coleman, Hello Avatar: The Rise of the Networked Generation (MIT Press, 2011)

Why I liked it: I loved this creative, expansive book about personhood and identity in a digital age, by a prof and researcher I much admire, on MIT Press’s cool list of books in this field.

Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Random House, 2006) 

Why I liked it: Prof. Dweck’s work continues to inspire about how to encourage young people as learners, especially those who are smart and need to focus on a “growth mindset” rather than to rest of the laurels of their natural gifts and socio-economic advantages.

Shamus Khan, Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School (Princeton, 2012)

Why I liked it: The issues that this book takes up are hard, especially in schools with long and proud histories.  Again in the “whether or not you agree” category — and this book evokes strong feelings — this first-person account, and associated reflections, by Prof. Khan of his experience at St. Paul’s School has caught the attention of both students and faculty in various courses and contexts.  It has been a big conversation-starter about community, race, class, and other big themes in residential secondary schools.

Claude Steele, Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (Norton, 2011)

Why I liked it: At PA, a group of faculty assigned this book as the “community read” last summer, to tee up our first faculty meeting on stereotype threat.  The book worked extremely well as a scene-setter for a conversation that continues to lead to policy-changes and discussions about how we teach and learn.

S. Craig Watkins, The Young & The Digital: What the Migration to Social-Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for our Future (Beacon, 2009)

Why I liked it: Prof. Watkins brings great insight to the challenges and opportunities of growing up in a digital era; his work is much worth following in general, and this book is highly enjoyable in particular.

DDoS Report, in the Wake of Wikileaks, Cablegate, and Anonymous

The Wikileaks/Cablegate story has long-term implications for global society on very many levels.  (See JZ’s excellent FAQ on Wikileaks, co-developed with Molly Sauter.)  One is our shared understanding of the Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack phenomenon.  The incidence of DDoS has been growing in recent years.  It links up to important threads to emerge from our OpenNet Initiative work in studying the ways in which states and others exert measures of control on the open Internet.  (Consider, for instance, the reports from ONI on Belarus and Kyrgyz election monintoring, which broke new ground on DDoS a few years ago, led primarily by our ONI partners Rafal Rohozinski, Ron Deibert, and their respective teams).

We are issuing a new report on DDoS today, which we hope will help to put some of these issues into perspective.  For an excellent blog entry on it, please see my co-author Ethan Zuckerman’s post.

After initial publication of State Department cables, Wikileaks reported that their web site became subject to a series of DDoS attacks that threatened to bring it down.  These attacks are simple in concept: multiple computers from around the world request access to the target website in sufficient numbers to make the site “crash.”  It turns out to be hard for most systems administrators to defend against such an attack.  And it turns out to be relatively easy to launch such an attack.  Computers that have been compromised, through the spread of computer viruses, are available for “rent” in order to launch such attacks. In a study that we are releasing this morning, we found instances where the “rent” of these machines is suggested by the round numbers of attacking machines and the precise durations of the attacks.

In the face of these attacks, Wikileaks decided to move its web site to safer ground.  Large-scale web hosts, particularly “cloud computing” service providers, can resist DDoS attacks.  Wikileaks did what one might reasonably suggest to, say, a small human rights organization in an authoritarian regime, where they fear attack from the state or others.  Wikileaks moved to the Amazon.com cloud.  Shortly thereafter, apparently in the face of pressure, Amazon decided to stop serving Wikileaks’ web site, and cut them off.  Wikileaks found a “James Bond-style” bunker in Sweden which agreed to host them — presumably despite pressure to take the site down.

The DDoS story took another major turn in the Wikileaks narrative when Anonymous launched a series of attacks on sites perceived to have been unhelpful to Wikileaks in the post-Cablegate aftermath.  These DDoS attacks raised the specter of cyberwarfare, much discussed in policy circles but all of a sudden on the front page of major newspapers.  Depending on political viewpoint and other factors, people I’ve talked to seemed to see these retribution DDoS attacks as different in their implications from the initial DDoS attacks on Wikileaks itself.

There have been relatively few studies of DDoS as an empirical or a policy matter.  We are releasing a report today, (which I’ve co-authored with Hal Roberts, Ethan Zuckerman, Jillian York, and Ryan McGrady), that describes DDoS and makes a series of recommendations in light of what we’ve found.  It’s funded by a generous grant from OSI.  Regardless of whether you consider DDoS to be criminal behavior, the next wave in cyberwarfare, an acceptable form of protest, or all of the above, we hope you’ll read and give feedback on the report.

NYT story on Iran Elections and Technology, with Linkage to Green Dam

The New York Times’ Brian Stelter and Brad Stone have a very thoughtful piece in the paper today about the changing role of censorship in an Internet age, with references to ONI work. The final point, made in the story by Ethan Zuckerman, draws an appropriate connection to the Green Dam story in China from a few weeks ago.

How Does a Foundation Program Officer Decide How to Make Grants?

At the Berkman Center’s lunch speaker series, Gary Kebbel of the Knight Foundation is with us today. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen such a public, open discussion by a program officer of a foundation about how they do their work in funding great projects. The Knight Foundation has been running the News Challenge for a few years, and they seek to learn and improve their processes each time. This year, they doubled the number of applications and, even more impressive, they reached out successfully to a global set of applicants (good news, we think, coming from the Global Voices-style perspective, as we do here at the Berkman Center). Knight has also continued to innovate with ways for people to submit public or private applications to the consideration process.  One thing I learned: News Challenge applicants are free to read these comments, in the case of an open application, and then go back and revise and improve their application. They’ve also got a blog on PBS called Idea Lab, part of the PBS Media Shift blogging empire (hey! there’s David Ardia).

In the spirit of our interest in young people, Digital Natives, doing innovative things online: The most interesting experiment, from my perspective, is their work with MTV and MTV International on the Young Creators Award. They set aside $500,000 for this award, geared toward those 25-years-old and younger. Of the new young applicants, almost half are international.

Some of the upticks that they are seeing in the applications to this year’s News Challenge: Facebook applications, use of GPS-related tools, and place-tagging for wireless.

Grant-seekers and innovators and young creators around the world, watch Gary explain how the sausage is made when it comes to grant-making at the Knight Foundation. Watch also for commentary from uber-bloggers Ethan Zuckerman and David Weinberger and Lisa Williams, who are in the room here in real-time.

Digital Natives Conversation Goes International

One of the themes of Born Digital, the book Urs Gasser and I are working on, is excitement around the possibility of an emerging global culture of young people who use technology in particular ways. (We’re equally interested in the problems of those who may be left out of that emerging culture, too, as Ethan Zuckerman and Eszter Hargittai and others are quick to remind us.) It was fun, in this context, to see a few international responses to / reverberations of our post about definitions and subtleties around who is a “digital native” and who is not: one from Canada’s paper of record, the Globe and Mail; a few in Spanish; and a few in German; in Italian; and from our friend and colleague Shenja on the [email protected] (London School of Economics) blog.

(Since this is a joint research project with our colleagues at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, I suppose it’s not really surprising — the conversation actually started internationally.)