Tag Archives: education

Educated by Tara Westover

educatedThis memoir had an effect on me and I want to recommend it to everyone. Educated by Tara Westover is a memoir about family obligations, systems of control, and the power of education. It was a hard, but good read. 

Westover grew up in a strict, Mormon household in rural middle America with parents who had their own interpretation of Mormonism that they proselytized to their children and used to condemn others’ interpretations of divine faith, including other Mormons. The parents did not trust the government, which extended to not birthing most of their children in hospitals because they were part of the evil “medical establishment”,  not legally recording most of their children’s births until many years later, not immunizing their children or permitting them to visit doctors for care in favor of homeopathy, and not enrolling their children in schools for fear the schools would brainwash their children with nonsense. The denial of all of these things to their children, particularly access to an education as the children weren’t really schooled at home either, was a way to indoctrinate the children into the parents’ belief system, bound the children to their parents’ sphere of control so that the children may never leave, and limit the children from access to other ways of thinking that would allow the children to be able to question their family’s way of life. 

Westover’s tale highlights how important access to an education is as she details the life circumstances of her siblings — those who managed to be admitted to college, after secretly studying for standardized testing, went on to receive doctorates, whereas the others never received high school diplomas or GEDs and subsequently had limited job options and continued to be employees of their parents’ businesses as they had been since they were children. The memoir is broken into three parts, beginning with Westover’s childhood, transitioning into Westover’s teen years when she enrolls in an undergraduate program, and the last pieces include her venturing to another part of the world for education purposes and having her worldview expanded even more than her undergraduate experiences initially opened. While education definitely plays a central role in this memoir, a large part of Westover’s story involves controlling family dynamics, the emotional abuse that often rains down from the controlling heads of household, unfettered physical abuse that family members conveniently ignore or outright deny because acknowledgement of its actuality could challenge their pleasant forms of reality, and outright misogyny about a women’s place in the family and in the world that is shielded from question by religious morales. 

While Westover’s education granted her access to many things, it also created many conflicts with her family and led to estrangements from certain members. Becoming “educated” isn’t always cost-free and Westover’s story illuminates some of the challenges that can be associated with advancing oneself, whilst one’s family tries to hold them back. This was a book that I needed to read and I hope that it is enlightening for others. 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Random House via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Random House or NetGalley.

 

Publication Date: 20 Feburary 2018 by Random HouseFormat: ARC e-book.

Author: Tara Westover web/facebook/@twitter

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Tap, Click, Read by Lisa Guernsey and Michael H. Levine

9781119091899.pdfI purchased Tap, Click, Read: Growing Readers in a World of Screens because it was relevant to my work as an educational media researcher. When I know I’m going to have a lot of travel in my future, I always try to scoop up a work-relevant read to indulge in during spurts of travel. This allows me to feel productive for work things when I’m not able to be online and respond to emails quickly.

This book satisfied my itch to productively read for work! Soon, I’ll be beginning a project that examines how educational programming (including television, apps, websites, and digital games) influences literacy skills so this book was a perfect primer for helping me frame my thinking around literacy and digital screens. In fact, I’ve recommend this book to all of my coworkers who will be embarking upon this project with me.

Tap, Click, Read serves as a great overview of many current research studies which examine the intersection of literacy and emerging technologies. Since I wasn’t familiar with many of the existing literacy studies, the book was immensely helpful in furthering my knowledge base. The book would also be a great read for anyone who works with mediating media or books for young children, educators, librarians, caregivers, and family members so that they can learn ways to encourage positive reading habits and intellectual curiosity within the young children in their lives. While I was highlighting portions of the book that I found particularly interesting, I found half of my highlights to be work-related and the other half to be reading tips that I wanted to relay to my brother, who is the new father of a 3 month old. As far as being a book centered around research, I found it to be very accessible and not daunting or full of academic jargon. 

Though as a researcher, I unfortunately had some pet peeves when it came to reading the print version of this book. I make that distinction because I think the digital version had more features (such as the ability to click on notes in the book and watch videos that tied into certain sections). Instead of traditional footnotes or endnotes to link to citations or clarifications, the book features “Notes” at the end of each chapter that are organized by chunks of words that appear in the chapter. As someone who was very interested in seeing any citations and clarifications, I found this extremely annoying because it would have forced me to constantly toggle between the text and Notes to see if anything was included. This made it extremely difficult for me to be able to follow up independently on any specific studies that were mentioned in order to make my own opinion about their findings, which may have been an intentional choice by the authors or the editor.

I also noted a small error in the description of one of the studies included, which mentioned that Ice Age was a film from Disney: it’s not, it’s from Blue Sky Studios, 20th Century Fox, HIT Entertainment, and 20th Century Fox Animation. While this is a very simple mistake, it made me wonder if other bigger and less obvious mistakes existed within the book that would be difficult to find because of the annoying Notes style.

Despite my pet peeves, I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in thinking about how literacy is evolving for young children due to the emergence of new technologies and how we can continue to continue to prioritize literacy in the home, classroom, community, and digital sphere.

Publication Date: 21 September 2015 by Jossey-Bass. Format: Paperback.

Authors: Lisa Guernsey web/twitter and Michael H. Levine twitter

learning to improve: how america’s schools can get better at getting better

learning-to-improveLearning to Improve: How America’s Schools Can Get Better at Getting Better is a book written by a group of researchers (Anthony S. Bryk, Louis M. Gomez, Alicia Grunow, and Paul G. LeMahieu) and is the culmination, in their own words, of “learning from six years of pragmatic activity at The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.” One of my supervisors gave me this book when I was put on a new project at work doing some tasks with the New York City Department of Education. Since I had never worked with or studied how central teams function within a school district and I hadn’t spent any time in New York schools, I had quite a learning curve ahead of me. (Side note to the clueless like Past Bri: central teams are basically administrators who usually work for a school district and not individual schools.)

This book helped provide me with a lot of necessary insight and served as a great introduction to understanding how districts function and the relevant language used in the field. However, the book would probably be redundant to anyone who has studied or experienced how district-level reforms impact American schools.  For a newbie like me, the best parts of this book are the pieces that felt like a deep literature review, such as the vignette that discussed the role of instructional coaches within the Los Angeles Unified School District or the concise explanation of the how the Danielson Framework evaluates educators. All of this information on how districts choose to evaluate practitioners in order to hopefully increase student learning gains was a terrific aid to me and helped me more easily navigate the terms and references related to my project at work.

While I learned quite a bit from reading this book, I could have done without all of the constant references to Networked Improvement Communities, or NICs, which is the term created by the authors for their new form of “educational [Research & Design] which joins together the discipline of improvement science with the dynamism and creative power of networks organized to solve problems.” Even though I found the frequent mention of the NICs to be monotonous, the authors’ desire to make NICs a common term is likely the reason they compiled this book in the first place. I mostly skimmed the last chapters (6 and 7) as they primarily revolved around deeper discussion of the importance of NICs and weren’t particularly relevant to me.

Overall, this book was a great read for me and my supervisor really knew what they were doing when they recommended it to me. However, I don’t think Learning to Improve is written in an accessible or interesting way for someone who doesn’t work in my field.

Publication Date: 1 March 2015 by Harvard Education Press. Format: Paperback.

Authors: Anthony S. Bryk (web), Louis M. Gomez (web), Alicia Grunow (web), and Paul G. LeMahieu (web)

our kids: the american dream in crisis by robert d. putnam

Our KidsA lot of press have published very enthusiastic and positive reviews about Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert D. Putnam, but as someone who works in the education field, has a background in family, youth, and educational sociology, and is a frequent reader of nonfiction, I must strongly disagree with the bubble of positivity surrounding this book. The book covers what the author believes to be the disintegration of the “American dream” which, for the purposes of the book, is essentially the belief that individuals can achieve upward social and economic mobility through increased educational attainment.

Everything covered in the book isn’t new to anyone that works in education or is in tune with social inequality in anyway. I concede that this book is likely not meant for people who are already interested in and informed of these topics, but is rather meant to serve as an introduction to the general public of the troubling conditions that surround young people who are trying to advance themselves within society. However, the tone that Putnam adopts within his book is incredibly condescending. Within the work, he highlights the different life and education experiences that typically occur for youth in different economic classes, ranging from upper-middle class families to those who are living below the poverty line. I’m happy that Putnam (or rather his graduate student, Jennifer Silva, who actually conducted all of the interviews detailed in the book) included a range of representations of what it’s like to grow up in America today in comparison to what his and his high school classmates’ lives were like in 1959 in his hometown of Port Clinton, Ohio. However, what really irked me is when the author would write calls to action with an air of assumption that anyone reading the book helms from something above a working class background. When this happened, it seemed to me like Putnam sometimes lost sense of the humanity of the populations that he doesn’t personally identify as and assumed that anyone reading his book would be of the same social social class as him. Because of this, I felt like the calls to action were particularly alienating.

The main argument Putnam makes throughout the book is that class influences a child’s success in the American schooling system and subsequent career and education trajectory more than race does. While I agree that class is incredibly influential on these outcomes, race can also greatly impact how children are treated by their peers, community, and educators, and this cannot be brushed aside as easily as Putnam makes it seem. I wish Putnam had spent more time digging into how the intersection of race and class can impact certain children, but he seemed to cherry pick stories that supported his main thesis instead of looking to include a representation of different experiences.

Below, I’ve included two quotes that I found particularly troubling in order to provide examples of why this book rubbed me the wrong way. They are only included in this review because I feel like they can help potential readers decide whether or not this is a book they would like to read.

When describing how a poorer individual relates to his parents’ political ideologies, Putnam states, “David lives in a chaotic family situation with no role models at all for political or civic engagement, so our questions about those topics elicited a puzzled stare and a brief response, as though we had asked about Mozart or foxhunting.”

“But most readers of this book do not face the same plight, nor does its author, nor do our own biological kids. Because of growing class segregation in America, fewer and fewer successful people (and even fewer of our children) have much idea how the other half lives. So we are less empathetic than we should be to the plight of less privileged kids.”

Aforementioned alienation aside, I guess Our Kids can serve as a good introduction to how social and education inequality affects young people for a reader who is completely new to these topics. If you decide to read this, please realize that Putnam’s tone can be incredibly condescending at times and this subsequently impacts how he details the experiences of all of the study participants who were interviewed. I partly think he did this in order to enact a larger call to action and a greater sense of shared responsibility with the assumed (upper-middle class) audience who is reading the book, but it fell flat for me.

Publication Date: 10 March 2015 by Simon & Schuster.

Author: Robert D. Putnam web/facebook/@twitter

the short and tragic life of robert peace by jeff hobbs

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert PeaceAs I work backward through my backlogged book reviews, I now present you with my review of The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs, which is the second book that I finished in 2015 and is my favorite read of the year so far!

This book is beautifully written — you can tell the author spent countless hours studying the way other successful authors have crafted their timeless sentence structures. The Short and Tragic Life profiles, obviously, the life of Robert Peace from the relationship of his parents prior to Peace’s conception to how his family and friends deal with losing him after his death. The book is written by Peace’s college roommate which lends the book authenticity, but also means that the author inserts himself into the story at times, which can sometimes feel a bit awkward, but is completely understandable in context.

I’ll give a brief summary of the book, while trying not to reveal too much of its contents… this book discusses the early life of a young boy who is born into a low income family comprised of an extremely hardworking mother, an incarcerated and loving father (a reality that is sadly too common for many today), and dedicated grandparents. As Peace, an extremely intelligent child, navigates middle school and high school, Hobbs illuminates the struggle Peace must have felt to contribute to his family’s income, while trying to get himself to college, something no one in his immediate family had succeeded in doing before. When Peace enters a very prestigious university (and meets the author), he struggles to identify with the wealthy, privileged student body as a poor, black student. Hobbs describes this phase of Peace’s life and his struggle so incredibly well that this is the part of Robert Peace’s story that I always tell people about when I recommend this book to them. I have yet to read something that feels more authentic when describing how difficult it is to navigate fitting into an elite university’s student body when you differ from the majority. This othering of Peace very much influenced his college career and post-college trajectory and is a necessary read for anyone who is interested in higher education, socioeconomic differences, race, sociology, and the intersection of all of the above. Please, please read this book!

I originally read this book in order to participate in a Twitter book club led by Kat Chow, a journalist who covers race and culture for NPR’s Code Switch blog. As part of the book club, Kat and her twitter followers curated a list of books that are either about or are written by people of color. While the online book club seems to have died after the reading of the first selection, the list still lives and is a good reference point for adding things to your To-Be-Read pile. I have it saved in my bookmarks.

As I mourn the loss of my all too short stint of being in a digital book club, I was wondering if any of you have an online book club that you recommend me joining? I just joined a book of the month discussion inspired by Rory Gilmore (I started binging Gilmore Girls in February and am now almost done with the series…), but it doesn’t seem like it’ll be as active as I’m wanting. Are you in a book club that you’d like more people to join? Leave a comment and tell me more!

Publication date: 23 September 2014 by Scribner. Format: Hardcover.

Author: Jeff Hobbs GoodReads/Publisher Profile