Archive for January, 2013

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There is enough rock and debris in what my teachers didn’t know and in what I didn’t know as a teacher to completely hide Pennsylvania.  Although what we should have known is now readily available, the lowering of the mountain is not up to individuals.  Systemic reform of our schools and parenting is needed.  For a book that can make a difference, try Paul Tough, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.

Tough’s thesis is that cognitive skills are important, but do not ensure success in education or life.  Obsessive concentration on one or two narrow areas of talent may produce exceptional achievers, but again will not ensure success or happiness in education or life.  The key to success in all pursuits is noncognitive skills that make up character.  Yes, character.  From the research and the trial and error of experimental school programs, the important list of components can be shortened to grit, self-control, zest, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity.  Parents and educators need to understand how to create routine experiences that develop these qualities for small children.

We know it takes no talent or brains to be biological parents.  The same is true of being state politicians and school board members, all of which is a shame.  Who will lead us to a more enlightened life?  You know the answer; no one is going to.  Despite the need for systemic reform, if the light is to shine, it must shine one parent, one teacher, one school administrator at a time.  Tough’s book may be the match that ignites your light.  Charles Marlin

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Over the winter holidays I read books like a black bear eats berries, storing up ideas and experiences, or in the case of the black bear, fat cells to sleep on until spring.  All the books can be outstanding, as they were this season, but only one levitates to the top.

From the holidays, two great idea books that would appeal to  readers already interested in the topics, so take your cue from the titles of Dan Pallotta, Charity Case: How The Nonprofit Community Can Stand Up For Itself And Really Change The World, and Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy, Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back.

Salman Rushdie has written an autobiography of his years under the fatwa of Ayatollah Khomeini, using his cover name for the period, Joseph Anton: A Memoir.  It is a door stopper at 636 pages, painfully honest and gossipy at the same time.  Some of the details may bore you but not the intensity and anguish portrayed.  If you have enjoyed him in the past, you will again with this book.

The last two books are by mature, American naturalists, writing for the general public; however, neither are dumbed down.  This is not pop science, but well researched and elegantly woven together to read like a novel.  Life Everlasting: The Animal Way Of Death, by Bernd Heinrich, draws on his long career as researcher, teacher, and writer to give insight and meaning to all forms of death and reentry in nature.  Mankind and his footprint on nature is also given close scrutiny.  The author is a powerhouse and very popular; a reader cannot go wrong picking any or all of the titles he lists in the front.  With Heinrich, it is a silly game to say you like one title over another.  None are to be missed.

The book that became my holiday lodestar seems an unlikely candidate so you may have missed it.  If so, stop, and start your winter reading again with David George Haskell, The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature, in your hand.  I began reading one evening and finished it by the next.  A biologist at the University of the South, well-known for his innovative and inspiring teaching, Haskell based his book on a year’s close observation of a meter of old-growth forest in the Cumberland Plateau.  Can any reader imagine the response to a doctorial candidate if he advocated such an idea as his dissertation topic?  Not even Haskell would have approved.

We are lucky Haskell is his own obsessive boss for he has much to offer, new ideas, old ideas in new attire, and a refreshing optimism in his little book.  I would vote to award a Ph.D. for it.  How many naturalists write of the expectation that a mutant bacteria may, at the moment you are reading this sentence, be at work eating its first golf ball, given to nature by a charitable golfer?

The image is from Fineture.com.  Charles Marlin

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