Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I picked up this book again when a friend of mine undertook an up-and-down the Pacific coast motorcycle ride (actually, it was a Malibu to Bend, Oregon and back motorcycle ride). I read it back in high school and remembered many parts of it, but I wanted to read it again with him. As I read it, I remembered why I loved the book, and I remembered why I found much of it unintelligible or way beyond my philosophical educational baseline. I do appreciate the ruminating on the concept of quality and the concept of peace of mind. I found those pieces insightful, and along with the picture of a man trying to reconcile being a father, an employee, and a philosopher, insightful, but again, very challenging. I did like the book, and I enjoyed my conversation with my friend after re-reading it, but that will probably be the last time I re-read the book. Twice into the mind of Robert Pirsig is enough for me.



The Swerve: How the World Became Modern

A fantastic book. It is a lesson in Greek History, Roman History, the Catholic Church and the Middle Ages. It is a lesson about how civilizations can be ruined by fanaticism. It is a lesson about the importance of ideas and the power they have. And for some, it is a lesson on how to make the most of life on this planet. I highly recommend it. I will be rereading this one.



The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way

The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way, by Amanda Ripley (2013)
This book takes three exchange students from the US and compares their experiences at home and abroad, while looking carefully and the Finland Education System as a model. It is a compelling read, and sends some strong messages. First:
the level of challenge in American classrooms is not as high as it should be. Most of the challenge focuses on memorization, when it should focus on higher level skills. Second, homework is overrated. Students having lives outside of school is essential. Third, training and hiring high quality teachers is an absolute necessity. Finland is much more selective than most nations. And where did they learn all of this? American educational research – most of which is ignored in American schools.



Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

My dad recommended this one to me. I don’t think I liked it as much as he did. Mr. Harari examines the cognitive history of humans, and basically argues that we have not become any happier due to all of our cognitive development. In fact, we may very well be more unhappy than ever. He is very concerned about the science of man creating his/her own happiness through chemistry and cloning. I did not see a whole lot of answers or solutions. Highly interesting? Yes. Helpful? not so much.



Overloaded and Underprepared

This book has become a very important book in our district.  Written by a group of Stanford University School of Education leaders, and former teachers, it talks about the fact that the stress level of our students is extraordinary, and we’re often overloading them with the wrong things. The blame is placed in lots of places: the students themselves, parents, teachers, colleges, and more. The writers have started a group at Stanford called Challenge-Success. Its organization invites high schools to send in teams of teachers, counselors, parents, and administrators to develop plans for how schools can become more healthy places for students in their quest for education and a bright future. Manhattan Beach is sending a group from Mira Costa High School up to Challenge-Success this October. We look forward to coming back with more ideas as we try to become a healthy and well place for our students. The book is practical, well-written, and I highly recommend it.



Leverage Leadership

This book tells the story of the power of data in transforming schools and helping all students to achieve. I am a bit ambivalent about this one. While I agree with the premise, my philosophy of learning leans toward the more holistic side. I do not relish the idea of making learning about testing. I am more on the side of supporting teachers who ignite a passion in students and make going to school a great experience every day. I will keep coming back to this idea, because I know that accountability is essential, but I do want to draw limits.


Still, one of our goals in MBUSD with the implementation of the Common Core is to develop a series of common assessments. Wisely used, we can use this data to maximize student achievement. This book will be a good guide.



Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life

This book was recommended to me by a Mira Costa graduate who is now a college sophomore. It is a damning report on the level of instruction at the college level. Having had a son just go through college, I believe that great teaching in many colleges is the exception. It also discusses how our students play the game of getting into college, and that is no easy thing to read. It’s a great book for parents and educators. Let’s help our students to be their best and more importantly, to find out who they are. Their focus should not be impressing other with achievements that may or may not matter. This book certainly has thoughts on that. I recommend it. Look up Stephen Colbert’s interview of Mr. Deresiewicz for insight and laughs.


Edge of Eternity

This is the last in the century trilogy by Ken Follett. I’ve already written about the other two, Fall of Giants and Winter of the World. I love a good historical novel.  This is a third book that follows the same four families during the 20th century: one family is from the United States, one from England, one from Germany, one from Russia. It traces their lives through the generations of the 20th century. These books are not short, but if you love historical novels, you will race through them and love it. There are new insights into some historical ideas, and it certainly reminds you of the amazing events of the 20th century. I recommend the entire series. It is great summer reading material. Enjoy!

Cool: How the Brain’s Hidden Quest for Cool Drives Our Economy and Shapes Our World

Steven Quartz is a very good friend of mine, and my wife and I were excited to be able to read this book before its publication. This is a big brain research book. Brain research is increasing its role as a shaper in education research and policy. This insightful book examines why people make the economic decisions they do, and what role the brain plays in all of it. It is heavily research driven (what else would you expect from a professor at Cal Tech?), and incredibly insightful. One of my thoughts as I read it was that great teachers somehow make learning cool for everyone. They create a culture of cool that everyone wants to be a part of and they make it special to achieve.


Building a Better Teacher

This book, by a journalist and not an educator, hits the nail on the head when the author states that our educational research in the US is fantastic, and the level of implementation in the classroom is deplorable. I remember a phrase from Richard Elmore that talked about the stormy sea in which educational research is being debated, with fierce battles between researchers and politicians and district leaders. But as you go down below the surface of that raging storm, you go to the bottom of the sea, where instruction is actually happening, and all you see is a little swaying back and forth. Nothing really changes. The question Ms. Green asks is why is our math instruction so static, when it goes against all of our own research. I loved it.

Better Learning Through Structured Teaching

This came to my attention from a USC doctoral student. It is a fantastic book that brings together many of the best ideas and research in teaching. Mike Schmoker’s ideas on direct instruction; Lauren Resnick’s ideas on accountable talk, the role of independent learning and the use of technology. It’s a strong book, and I kept on saying, “Yes!” as I read along.

Being Mortal

I am 55 years old now and I feel very fortunate that both of my parents are still alive and very much a part of my life. But I am at the point in my life where I am thinking about how it will be as they get older, and as I get older. Dr. Gawande writes about that process. It’s a fascinating read.

He talks about the advent of nursing homes which changed how families take care of the elderly. He talked about the dangers of nursing homes and how hospices have addressed many of the short-comings of nursing homes. He talked about communities and families who are figuring out different ways that are more organic and more based on each community’s particular needs. This is an important topic and I appreciated all of the insight and personal experiences of Dr. Gawande.