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    Of Note: Teaching Through the Election

    The Trump Effect: The impact of the presidential campaign on our nation’s schools
    by Maureen B. Costello
    Southern Poverty Law Center, April 2016

    This brief report from the Southern Poverty Law center attempts to weigh the impact of this year’s unique presidential campaign on students and teaching. Culled from an online survey conducted at the Teaching Tolerance website, the report’s data suggests that teachers believe that their students, and particularly children of immigrants and Muslims, are concerned about the divisive rhetoric of the campaign. They also report a hesitancy to teach about the presidential election, a rise of uncivil political discourse among their students, and an increasing anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment in their school communities. Respondents suggest that they are “teaching for their lives” and abandoning the usual conventions of political neutrality in their classrooms in favor of helping under-represented students feel supported. The study also suggests that a positive phenomenon of the presidential campaign may be an increased interest in politics among students and a call for the return of a more civil discourse, at least in the classroom. While the study readily admits that it likely contains biases and is largely nonscientific, it does provide a perspective of the national zeitgeist of educators at this particular moment in history, and it may inspire others to use the tools at their disposal to help make sense of this moment and possibly shape a more decorous future through their students.

    Submitted By Christopher Lauricella, The Park School of Buffalo, Buffalo, NY


    The Search for Salvific Effects

    How Kids Learn Resilience
    by Paul Tough
    The Atlantic, June 2016

    If you’re an educator today, you’ve likely noticed a growing emphasis on character education. Words like grit, resilience, and perseverance abound. Ever since the passage of No Child Left Behind, teachers and administrators have decried the salvific effects of standardized tests. These tests have failed to offer insights about the types of characteristics that have become linked with long-term academic, professional, and personal success. With NCLB in the rearview mirror, cultivating these social-emotional traits, which include the likes of stress management, commitment to long-term projects, delaying of gratification, and impulse control, is increasingly becoming the new goal of schools. Although Paul Tough focuses primarily on the experience of inner city public schools in inculcating these character traits, he also offers thoughts on how a school might, or might not, be successful in this endeavor. Additionally, he explores the question of whether or not these skills can be taught in the same way that we might teach math or history. Drawing on research from psychologists, economists, and sociologists, Tough’s article is a must-read for independent school educators and administrators asking how character development fits into the holistic education offered at our schools.

    Submitted By Blair Munhofen, The Miami Valley School, Dayton, Ohio


    Contributing Factors

    The Limits of "Grit"
    by David Denby
    The New Yorker, June 21, 2016

    David Denby’s article offers a thoughtful and provocative response to the dangers of Angela Duckworth’s theories on grit as the determining factor for success. He contrasts Duckworth’s theories and her formula for achievement with Paul Tough’s work, which highlights the devastating impact of stress during early childhood on later educational success. Next to some of Tough’s insights, Denby leads, “Duckworth’s work regarding poor children becomes irrelevant or even unwittingly abrasive.” He posits that her singular focus on grit ignores numerous contributing factors of success, including talent, flexibility, resources, and luck. Denby argues that our greatest crisis in contemporary education is the inability to adequately serve the poorest members of society, and he outlines his concerns about using the grit scale as a meaningful educational measurement. Instead of promoting the metrics of the grit scale, Denby makes a case for the value of enhancing educational services and support for early childhood programming to provide better outcomes in closing the achievement gap between affluent and impoverished students.  What’s more, he urges us to continue to seek genuine understanding instead of settling for tautologies. 

    Submitted By Lauren Rogers, Salem Academy, Winston-Salem, NC


    Mandatory Social Justice

    The Long-Term Effects of Social-Justice Education on Black Students 
    by Melinda D. Anderson
    ​The Atlantic, July 19, 2016

    The present political and social landscape in America calls on schools to embed social justice education into curricula, and independent schools should have the will and flexibility to take a lead in this direction. Transformative social-justice education is a path towards school and social equity with proven, positive, long-term effects, especially on black adolescents. Transformative social-justice education addresses social justice issues intellectually, communally, and emotionally. Similar to transformative social change, it is a philosophical, practical, and strategic approach to social equity and justice. Research shows that the benefits of mandatory social-justice class in schools extends well beyond adulthood regardless of the race or ethnicity of the teacher. Such a class can unravel socioeconomic issues among black students, while also elevating the capacity of the teacher to connect with the students and have an impact on their identities. At a time when current events exert much mental toll on our students, our ability as teachers to connect emotionally with them and help them process their experiences in healthy ways is crucial to protecting them and preserving the American democracy.

    Submitted By Meng Lusardi, Riverdale Country School, Bronx, NY


    Unmarked Seed Packages

    The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children
    Farrar, Straus and Giroux, August, 2016

    In her new book, University of California, Berkeley professor, Alison Gopnik’s premise is provocative. She believes that much of 21st century parenting is wrong-headed, sometimes obsessive and controlling, and often undertaken with the hope of shaping children into a particular kind of adult. She points out that this is both bad science and bad for children and adults. She is specific about what the alternatives are, making the case for listening to our children, for the value of play, and for parental love for who the child is. She encourages parents to be gardeners, creating the generative, ready, rich, and imaginative ground for their child’s growth, rather than carpenters, who have a finished product in mind before the work even begins. Every chapter will speak directly to any educator who works with parents who have high hopes and no time to wait for the blossoming of unmarked seed packages. Notably, Dr. Gopnik makes her case with an exquisite empathy rather than blame for parents. One finishes this book feeling that there is a real, preferable, and evidence-based alternative response to the pressures many of today’s parents place on themselves, and on their children.

    Submitted By Elizabeth Morley, Kobe Shinwa Women’s University, Kobe, Japan


    Past Baseline

    Safe Is Not Enough: Better Schools for LGBTQ Students
    by Michael Sadowski
    Harvard Education Press, August 9, 2016

    At a time when concerns about LGBTQ students are increasingly visible and debated, Michael Sadowski, formerly a teacher and GSA advisor himself, brings us Safe Is Not Enough, a new book about policies, curricula, and cultures to support LGBTQ students. Middle school, Sadowski reminds us, is a particularly crucial time, when sexist and homophobic language tends to soar. Safety, he says, is an important baseline, but we can’t stop there. The goal is inclusive culture -- to be affirming of and empowering for all our students and their identities. Sadowski advocates for student groups like the GSA, for focused diversity initiatives, and for being intentional in schools about providing mentors and role models for LGBTQ students -- for example, those who identify to the community as LGBTQ themselves. He presents a range of existing practices across schools, states, and zip codes, profiling, for instance, Welcoming Schools, where teaching about stereotypes and bullying is an explicit part of the curriculum. In addition to working to make our schools safe, Sadowski emphasizes actively cultivating self-acceptance in our student populations and school communities.

    Submitted By Meghan Tally, Windward School, Los Angeles, CA


    Wake-Up Call

    Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape
    by Peggy Orenstein
    Harper, March 29, 2016

    In her powerful new book, Peggy Orenstein draws from in-depth interviews with more than seventy young women to reveal a profound and broad change in the ways that girls now experience their sexuality during adolescence and into young adulthood. In most ways current parents are more involved in their children's decision making and far more controlling in their children’s academic lives than parents in the past, yet there is little parental awareness of the dangerous arena of the hookup culture, which girls (and boys) navigate every day. Indeed, most parents never have a single conversation with their teenagers about romance and sexuality. The results of this silence for many teenagers can be deeply problematic. Ms. Orenstein describes the myriad ways that pornography pervades and influences how young men and women view relationships, virginity, their own desire for intimacy, and the obligation to follow the male-dominated narrative of porn culture. Her book is a wake-up call for parents and teachers to understand, and then shepherd, their children through a landscape that can be unforgiving and destructive. As schools seek to develop policies around sexual misconduct and assault, and as they offer curriculum around sexual health, they must also educate themselves about the realities that their students live out in their daily lives. Ms. Orenstein’s book is a strong, sensible, and clear-eyed piece of reporting that should be essential reading for educators and parents alike. 

    Submitted By Stephanie Lipkowitz, Albuquerque Academy, Albuquerque, NM


    Smooth vs. Jagged

    The End of Average
    by Todd Rose
    HarperCollins, January 19, 2016

    As our schools become more adept at using data, The End of Average lends a cautionary voice to the conversation. Interestingly, the data, when we really look at it, makes a compelling case for being more aware and accepting of each individual’s “jaggedness.” As Rose writes, “When we are able to appreciate the jaggedness of other people’s talents -- the jagged profile our children, our employees, our students -- we are more likely to recognize their untapped potential.” In short, The End of Average makes a powerful plea for us to be intentional and thoughtful as we use data and consider each individual child in our care. Additionally, by presenting powerful cases -- like the design of cockpits -- Rose asks us to challenge and question the notion and efficacy of “average.” Rose’s own story about his education, intricately woven into the book, is both familiar and inspiring, driving home the notion that designing systems for the “average” person leads such systems to fit no one. As we wrestle with how to measure our schools’ effectiveness and work hard to reach each student, The End of Average is an important book that deserves our attention.

    Submitted By Ted Graf, Headwaters School, Austin TX

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