Must-Reads: Rachel Carson, the environmentalist pioneer, wrote The Sense of Wonder toward the end of her life. Originally an essay titled “Help Your Child to Wonder,” her spare, exquisite prose invites you to a ramble along a northern shore and through the wet Maine woodlands in spring. Luminous photographs show grass blades and tide pools through a child’s eyes, while the text guides the reader to recover a sense of mystery and awe, to be shared – in turn – with the next generation.
Dana Goldstein’s The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession reminds us that we ignore history at our peril. How many policymakers know that requiring children to take standardized tests, with results tied to teachers’ job security, is an approach that has failed before? The book is full of such insights, taking the reader from the launch of the teacher-union movement, to the rise of community control, to the corporate takeover of education. When do teachers teach well? When they’re supported and mentored by experienced colleagues who want them to succeed. When have American children excelled at learning? When their needs were addressed beyond the classroom.
The King of Children: The Life and Death of Janusz Korczak, by Betty Jean Lifton, belongs on any educator’s bookshelf. We may wonder at the courage of a man who, when he could no longer protect the orphans in his care, chose to accompany them to face death together in Treblinka. But what of the life they shared before? What forces shaped him into a father of two hundred? “You do not leave sick children in the night. And you do not leave children at a time like this.”
Recommended: In The Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence, Laurence Steinberg, a developmental psychologist, argues that adolescence is a stage just as crucial as years zero to three. Adolescents are undergoing the last life phase when the brain remains malleable; it’s a time of enormous opportunity, but also great risk. (In the United States, a sixth of adolescents are obese, a fifth of high-school-age boys are on anti-ADHD prescription drugs, and nearly a third of young women get pregnant before turning twenty.) The author first reviews findings from recent science, then offers practical advice to parents, educators, and policymakers. He emphasizes: “The most important contributor to wellbeing in adolescence is strong self-control.” The good news? Self-discipline can be taught – if adults provide a supportive and positive environment.
Garret Keizer’s Getting Schooled: The Reeducation of an American Teacher is a memoir of a high-school teacher who retires to pursue a writing career, then returns to teaching fifteen years later. Keizer’s prose is deft, incisive, and humorous – even when he’s inveighing against threats to real learning posed by standardized testing and ostensibly time-saving technology. He demands excellence, but cares enough to track a poor performance back to the hardships a student might face in her home life. If you’re disillusioned by the political bickering over education, visit Mr. Keizer’s classroom via this book.
Parents will find welcome encouragement in Kim John Payne’s Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier and More Secure Kids. It’s hard to disagree with the title, but when it comes to taking action on it, the apparent enormity of the project may be daunting. This matter-of-fact handbook takes the time to explain why simplicity is worth the effort. –The Editors