February is a great month for books about education, with very readable releases from John Seely Brown, Richard Whitmire, Ron Dietel, Alexander Russo, Gene Maeroff and one of Peg and Gris Merrow's sons. It's a short month, so you might not have time to read them all before March, but I hope you will give at least some of them a try. Below are my somewhat biased reviews of some notable titles.
For those who are looking forward to what schooling might become, "A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Flux" is essential reading. While I don't know co-author Douglas Thomas, I assure you that John Seely Brown is a deep thinker whose interests encompass just about everything. He's one of the smartest people I know. To give you a taste of their thinking, here are a couple of quotes from the book:
"We propose reversing the order of things. What if, for example, questions were more important than answers? What if the key to learning were not the application of techniques but their invention? What if students were asking questions about things that really mattered to them?"
"The ability to play may be the single most important skill to develop for the twenty-first century."
Amen to that, I say.
"A New Culture of Learning" turns school on its head, which the authors say is essential because the world our kids live in is already upside down. In short, play is the new work and questions are the new answers. The book, which is short and punchy, is only available on Amazon. (Full disclosure: I blurbed this book.)
Richard Whitmire is an engaging writer and a fine story teller. Marry those talents with a charismatic subject, which Whitmire has done, and the result is a terrific read. "The Bee Eater" is a semi-authorized biography of Michelle Rhee, the former Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. schools. As some readers may know, we followed Rhee for three years on PBS NewsHour (the 12 resulting episodes are viewable online). Whitmire, a friend and colleague over many years, essentially shadowed Michelle Rhee for months and the result is an insightful portrait of a bold, courageous but flawed leader."The Bee Eater" is published by Wiley.
Ready for a break, for a romp? Pick up Ronald Dietel's biting spoof, "The Perfect Test." It's a dystopian vision of a world gone crazy, a science fiction portrait of the future that often comes wickedly close to where we are now. "The Perfect Test" will make you laugh, but it will also make you mad and make you think. (Full disclosure: Ron has generously signed over the royalties to the Education Writers Association and Learning Matters, my nonprofit company.)
With all these books, I worry that Alexander Russo's will get lost in the shuffle and I hope that doesn't happen. "Stray Dogs, Saints and Saviors" is the gritty story of an unlikely attempt to fix a broken Los Angeles high school, Locke High School in South Central L.A. Alexander, also a friend and colleague, seems to have had complete access to the process and the result is an engaging story with several complex characters, including Green Dot founder Steve Barr. (Full disclosure: I also blurbed this book.)"Stray Dogs, Saints and Saviors" is published by Jossey-Bass.
"School Boards in America: A Flawed Exercise in Democracy" is the latest book from the tireless Gene Maeroff, the veteran New York Times reporter turned scholar. This is a dense but rewarding book, enlivened by stories of Gene's own experience as a member of the school board in his home town of Edison, New Jersey. It's not 'tales out of school' but a serious examination of the past and future of school boards. Given all the bad stuff that's being written about school boards lately, this book is a necessary balance."School Boards in America", which is Gene's 14th book, is published by Palgrave MacMillan.
And finally, I come to "The Influence of Teachers," a book that comes out in a few days on Amazon. Neither Peg nor Gris Merrow, the author's parents, are here to tell you to buy the book, but others are speaking up. Here's a sample:
"Terrific" (Jim Lehrer)
"Invaluable" (Marian Wright Edelman, Children's Defense Fund)
"Important and enjoyable, warm and thoughtful" (Former US Secretary of Education Richard C. Riley)
"Passionate, persuasive, and eminently readable" (Chris Cerf, co-creator of 'Between the Lions' and recipient of the 2010 McGraw Prize in Education)
"A book that will move you to tears and to action" (Tony Marx, incoming President of the New York Public Library and current President of Amherst College)
"If only there were more John Merrows!" (E.D. Hirsch, Jr., founder of Core Knowledge and author of Cultural Literacy)
By now you have figured out that I wrote "The Influence of Teachers," which LM Books published on Amazon. It's available on Feb. 15, although you can place your order right now. (All of the proceeds go directly to Learning Matters.)
Follow John Merrow on Twitter: www.twitter.com/john_merrow