Literacy and Graphic Novels

Inside Higher Ed:

In today’s Academic Minute, the University of North Florida’s Katie Monnin describes how the use of graphic novels in the classroom can improve reading comprehension and attitudes about reading among young readers. Monnin is an assistant professor of literacy at North Florida and author of the forthcoming Really Reading with Graphic Novels and Teaching Content Area Graphic Novels.

South Korea plans to convert all textbooks to digital, swap backpacks for tablets by 2015

Zach Honig:

Well, that oversized Kindle didn’t become the textbook killer Amazon hoped it would be, but at least one country is moving forward with plans to lighten the load on its future generation of Samsung execs. South Korea announced this week that it plans to spend over $2 billion developing digital textbooks, replacing paper in all of its schools by 2015. Students would access paper-free learning materials from a cloud-based system, supplementing traditional content with multimedia on school-supplied tablets. The system would also enable homebound students to catch up on work remotely — they won’t be practicing taekwondo on a virtual mat, but could participate in math or reading lessons while away from school, for example. Both programs clearly offer significant advantages for the country’s education system, but don’t expect to see a similar solution pop up closer to home — with the US population numbering six times that of our ally in the Far East, many of our future leaders could be carrying paper for a long time to come.

Brian S. Hall has more.

Suen gets tough in textbook dispute: Publishers are told they must separately sell teaching materials and school books, or other parties such as universities will be allowed to enter market

Dennis Chong & Amy Yip:

Secretary for Education Michael Suen Ming-yeung yesterday threw down the gauntlet to school textbook publishers, saying the government would take over publishing them unless “monopolies” get serious about selling the books and teaching materials separately.
Advocacy groups welcomed the idea, saying it would lower prices, but publishers described the one-year ultimatum as “mission impossible”.
Publishers last year pledged to separately sell textbooks and teaching materials, which can cost twice as much as the textbooks. But they recently said it would take another three years to do so.

The superagent on upholding great literature in an e-reading world

The Wall Street Journal:

Literary agent Andrew Wylie is of the old school. His office suite in New York’s Fisk Building feels more like a faculty lounge than a synergistic, new-media conglomerate. But the Wylie Agency, which represents some 750 clients, including a who’s who of the literary establishment–Roth, Updike, Rushdie–has been at the vanguard of changes in the book industry world-wide. With the advent of e-books and the demise of Borders, the publishing establishment may seem to be crumbling. Yet Wylie, renowned for his ability to extract huge advances from tightfisted publishers, doesn’t seem to be much ruffled.
Nicknamed “The Jackal” for his aggressive deal-making, Wylie struck terror into publishers last year by setting up a company, Odyssey Editions, to distribute electronic versions of books he represents through But don’t mistake him for a pop-culture version of a vulpine 15-percenter. Trim, polite and circumspect, Wylie, 63, is uncaffeinated. A New England WASP, he stands foursquare for literary elitism and good old-fashioned standards. And while he has his share of celebrity and political clients, he insists his work is all about great, lasting literature, not quick-buck synergies, “60 Minutes” tie-ins or Facebook friends.

Help students by rejecting the self-interested

Laurie Rogers:

With few exceptions, Americans spend more on public education than anyone else in the world, but we get some of the worst results. The reason is that most of our public education systems do not properly teach students what they need to know.
That’s it. There is no magic. And the federal takeovers, the jazzy new technology, Bill Gates’ money, the data-gathering, reform, transformation, national initiatives, removal of teacher seniority, blaming of parents, hand-wringing in the media, and budget shifting won’t change that simple fact.
In all of the local, state and federal plans for reforming and transforming public education, I see the bureaucracy growing, the taxpayer bill exploding, the people’s voice being eliminated, good teachers being threatened with firing or public humiliation, and students not being taught what they need to know.
A May 25 Wall Street Journal article says some schools now charge parents fees for basic academics, as well as for extracurricular activities, graded electives and advanced classes. Those are private-school fees for a public-school education, and that’s just wrong.

The study of well-being; Strength in a smile – A new discipline moves to centre-stage

The Economist:

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being. By Martin Seligman. Free Press; 368 pages; $26. Nicholas Brealey Publishing
The idea that it is the business of governments to cheer up their citizens has moved in recent years to centre-stage. Academics interested in measures of GDH (gross domestic happiness) were once forced to turn to the esoteric example of Bhutan. Now Britain’s Conservative-led government is compiling a national happiness index, and Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, wants to replace the traditional GDP count with a measure that takes in subjective happiness levels and environmental sustainability. Reveals the Most Well-Read Cities in America


Just in time for the summer reading season, announced its list of the Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities in America. After compiling sales data of all book, magazine and newspaper sales in both print and Kindle format since Jan. 1, 2011, on a per capita basis in cities with more than 100,000 residents, the Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities are:

Zero tolerance for print

Nicholas Carr:

Politicians are usually sticks in the mud, technologywise, but that certainly wasn’t the case down in Tallahassee this week. Florida legislators closed their eyes, clicked their heals, and took a giant leap forward into the Information Age, passing a budget measure that bans printed textbooks from schools starting in the 2015-16 school year. That’s right: four years from now it will be against the law to give a kid a printed book in a Florida school. One lawmaker said the bill was intended to “meet the students where they are in their learning styles,” which means nothing but sounds warm and fuzzy.

Cory Doctorow Predicts the Future in Makers

Jonathan Liu:

Perry and Lester are two guys living in an abandoned mall outside of Miami. They’re the sort of guys who, to borrow a phrase from the Queen in Alice in Wonderland, can think up six impossible things before breakfast — and then build them in their workshop out of stuff they’ve found in the junkyard.
In short, they’re makers.
Cory Doctorow’s Makers: A Novel of the Whirlwind Changes to Come is jam-packed with cool ideas. In the book, a lot of these come from Perry and Lester, like a toast-making robot made of seashells or the Distributed Boogie Woogie Elmo Motor Vehicle Operation Cluster, which uses a gaggle of discarded toys to drive a Smart car via voice commands. Now these two examples are pretty silly — something you do just to prove you can, but there’s also some stuff that shows up later in the book that made me think, “Hey, I’d buy one of those!” Parts of the book read like a “Best of Kickstarter” highlights reel.

Amazon to launch library service for Kindle

Barney Jopson and David Gelles:

Amazon will let users of its Kindle e-reader borrow electronic books from two-thirds of US libraries as it seeks to broaden the device’s appeal in the face of competition from Apple’s iPad and rival tablets.
The world’s largest online retailer said that from later this year, customers would be able to borrow e-books from libraries and read – and annotate – them on a Kindle or any other device to which users have downloaded a Kindle app.
Amazon’s move intensifies questions about the commercial threat the growing popularity of e-readers poses to traditional book publishers, which have acknowledged a concern that e-book lending might cannibalise sales of books. US public libraries have spent several years building up their e-book collections, which have been accessible to users of Barnes & Noble’s Nook and Sony’s Reader device. But until now they have not worked with the Kindle.

Who Really Cares How Yuppies Raise Their Kids?

Motoko Rich:

First there was Amy Chua, the Yale law professor and author of “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” who sent legions of parents into a tizzy with her exacting standards for piano practice and prohibitions against sleepovers.
Now comes Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason University whose book “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think” was published on Tuesday. In it, he argues that parenting hardly matters, and that we should just let our children watch more television and play video games. With parenting made so easy, he says, we should go ahead and have more children.
It’s the age-old nature-or-nurture debate. Ms. Chua clearly favors the nurture side of the equation (if her heavy-handed approach could be described as “nurturing”). Mr. Caplan, who has already been dubbed the “Un-Tiger Mom,” writes, “While healthy, smart, happy, successful, virtuous parents tend to have matching offspring, the reason is largely nature, not nurture.”

Gripping saga in a bad school

Jay Matthews

I am probably the nation’s most devoted reader of real-life high school reform drama, an overlooked literary genre. If there were a Pulitzer Prize in this category, Alexander Russo’s new book on the remaking of Locke High in Los Angeles would win. It is a must-read, nerve-jangling thrill ride, at least for those of us who love tales of teachers and students.
Readers obsessed with fixing our failing urban schools will learn much from the personal clashes and political twists involved in the effort to save what some people called America’s worst school. I remember the many news stories about Locke, and enjoyed discovering the real story was different, and more interesting.
Locke was not really our toughest high school. Russo finds some nice students and kind teachers. But its inner-city blend of occasional mayhem and very low test scores made it famous when its teachers revolted and helped turn it over to a charter school organization that tried to fix it by breaking it into smaller, more manageable pieces.

What happens in the classroom when a state begins to evaluate all teachers, at every grade level, based on how well they “grow” their students’ test scores? Colorado is about to find out.

Dana Goldstein:

On exam day in Sabina Trombetta’s Colorado Springs first-grade art class, the 6-year-olds were shown a slide of Picasso’s “Weeping Woman,” a 1937 cubist portrait of the artist’s lover, Dora Maar, with tears streaming down her face. It is painted in vibrant — almost neon — greens, bluish purples, and yellows. Explaining the painting, Picasso once said, “Women are suffering machines.”
The test asked the first-graders to look at “Weeping Woman” and “write three colors Picasso used to show feeling or emotion.” (Acceptable answers: blue, green, purple, and yellow.) Another question asked, “In each box below, draw three different shapes that Picasso used to show feeling or emotion.” (Acceptable drawings: triangles, ovals, and rectangles.) A separate section of the exam asked students to write a full paragraph about a Matisse painting.
Trombetta, 38, a 10-year teaching veteran and winner of distinguished teaching awards from both her school district, Harrison District 2, and Pikes Peak County, would have rather been handing out glue sticks and finger paints. The kids would have preferred that, too. But the test wasn’t really about them. It was about their teacher.
Trombetta and her students, 87 percent of whom come from poor families, are part of one of the most aggressive education-reform experiments in the country: a soon-to-be state-mandated attempt to evaluate all teachers — even those in art, music, and physical education — according to how much they “grow” student achievement. In order to assess Trombetta, the district will require her Chamberlin Elementary School first-graders to sit for seven pencil-and-paper tests in art this school year. To prepare them for those exams, Trombetta lectures her students on art elements such as color, line, and shape — bullet points on Colorado’s new fine-art curriculum standards.

The Economist has more.

Spreading the word Hong Kong is well placed to promote Asian literature within the region and to the wider world

Peter Gordon:

Two Chinese novelists, Su Tong and Wang Anyi, have just been named finalists for the biennial Man Booker International Prize, the first Chinese writers to receive this honour. This is, therefore, something of a milestone. Yet, even while savouring the reflected glow of this accolade, those familiar with contemporary Chinese literature might wonder why it has taken so long. One explanation might be that this prize, like many international prizes, is based on works in English, and the English-language publishing world has been slow to produce Chinese novels or, indeed, much of anything in translation (a situation that, fortunately, seems to be improving somewhat).
This particular prize, furthermore, is awarded not for a single book, but for a writer’s entire corpus. China’s recent history has been such that it has not been possible for a long time to publish novels; these two authors are, by the standards of such lifetime prizes, relatively young, Su Tong particularly so.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, a Review

Reviewed by Katharine Beals, via a kind reader’s email:

The Death and Life of the Great American School System was wildly hailed as author and education critic Diane Ravitch’s dramatic about-face on No Child Left Behind, charter schools, and school choice. What’s missing from this sensational take is that Ravitch has changed her mind only about school reform tactics, and not about what constitutes good schools, or about her top priorities in fostering them.
She still stresses curriculum–apparently still her topmost priority. She still supports a challenging, content-rich core curriculum of the sort promoted by E.D. Hirsch and his Core Knowledge Foundation. She still believes that the best teachers are those with who know their fields well and are enthusiastic about teaching. She still believes that attracting such teachers is nearly as essential, if not as essential, as curriculum reform.
It’s in the question of why we’ve strayed so far from these ideals that Ravitch has shifted. While her earlier research (c.f. Left Back, published in 2000) critiqued, inter alia, a variety of prominent fad-peddling members of the education establishment, Ravitch now appears to blame just three factors: the high-stakes testing and accountability of No Child Left Behind (NCLB); the meddling in education by powerful outsiders like politicians and businessmen; and school choice ventures that skim off the best students and leave the rest to the most struggling of public schools.
On NCLB testing and accountability, Ravitch is convincing. Tests can be effective, comprehensive measures of achievement, in which case teaching “to” them is equivalent to teaching students what they should learn anyway. But, as Ravitch explains, NCLB’s top-down, high-stakes, punitive approach deters states from devising tests that come anywhere near this ideal.

Hand-Crafted Digital Texts

Scott McLemee:

Despite an abiding preference for the traditional book, I started using an e-reader about seven months ago — and have found it insinuating itself into daily life, just as a key chain or wallet might. For there is a resemblance. A key chain or wallet (or purse) is, in a sense, simply a tool that is necessary, or at least useful, for certain purposes. But after a while, each becomes more than that to its owner. To be without them is more than an inconvenience. They are extensions of the owner’s identity, or rather part of its infrastructure.
Something like that has happened with the e-reader. I have adapted to it, and vice versa. Going out into the world, I bring it along, in case there are delays on the subway system (there usually are) or my medical appointment runs behind schedule (likewise). While at home, it stays within reach in case our elderly cat falls asleep in my lap. (She does so as often as possible and has grown adept at manipulating my guilt at waking her.) Right now there are about 450 items on the device. They range from articles of a few thousand words to multivolume works that, in print, run to a few hundred pages each. For a while, my acquisition of them tended to be impulsive, or at least unplanned. Whether or not the collection reflected its owner’s personality, it certain documented his whims.

It’s Time for a National Digital-Library System

David Rothman:

William F. Buckley Jr., my political opposite, once denounced the growing popularity of CD-ROM’s in student research. Shouldn’t young people learn from real books?
I disagreed. Why not instead digitize a huge number of books and encourage the spread of book-friendly tablet computers with color screens and multimedia capabilities? (Decades later, we have a version of that in the iPad.) Buckley loved my proposal (“inspiring”) and came out in the 1990s with two syndicated columns backing the vision. As a harpsichord-playing Yalie famous for political and cultural conservatism and cherishing archaic words, Buckley was hardly a populist in most respects. But he fervently agreed with me that a national digital library should be universal and offer popular content–both books and multimedia. The library should serve not just the needs of academics, researchers, and lovers of high culture.

‘Crazy U,’ by Andrew Ferguson, about his family’s college admissions experience

Steven Livingston:

My daughter’s college applications are all in, and now we can quietly go nuts while admissions fairies from coast to coast get busy, as Andrew Ferguson wonderfully puts it, “sprinkling pixie dust and waving wands, dashing dreams or making them come true.”
It’s an apt metaphor because, as anyone who’s been in it knows, the family caravan to collegeland is magical and terrifying: You begin wide-eyed and innocent, skipping along with outsized hopes, only to shrink before the fire-breathing ogres of the SAT, the essay, the deadlines, the costs. In “Crazy U,” Ferguson invites you to join him on the dream-mare that he and his son endured.
The book is both a hilarious narrative and an incisive guide to the college admissions process. Ferguson, a senior editor at the Weekly Standard, has done his research, poring over mountains of published material and interviewing admissions officers, college coaches, academics and the guy behind the U.S. News & World Report college rankings.

Madison School District preparing hundreds of teacher layoff notices

Matthew DeFour & Gena Kittner:

The Madison School District and others across the state are scrambling to issue preliminary layoff notices to teachers by Monday due to confusion over Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill and the delay of the state budget.
Madison may issue hundreds of preliminary layoff notices to teachers Monday if an agreement with its union can’t be reached to extend a state deadline, school officials said Thursday.
The School Board plans to meet at 7 a.m. Friday in closed session to discuss the matter.
The Wisconsin Association of School Boards this week urged local school officials to decide on staff cuts by Monday or risk having potential layoffs challenged later in court.
“It’s hugely important and hugely upsetting to everyone,” said Craig Bender, superintendent of the Sauk Prairie School District, which will issue preliminary notices to 63 of its roughly 220 teachers. “It has a huge effect on how schools can function and how well we can continue to educate all kids.”
Bender said the preliminary notices reflected “a guess” about the number of teachers who could lose their jobs because the state budget has not been released.

Related: Providence plans to pink slip all teachers Due to Budget Deficit
Amy Hetzner & Erin Richards:

The first tremors of what could be coming when Gov. Scott Walker releases his 2011-’13 budget proposal next week are rippling through Wisconsin school districts, where officials are preparing for the worst possibilities and girding for fiscal fallouts.
“I’m completely nervous,” Cudahy School District Superintendent Jim Heiden said. “Walking into buildings and seeing teachers break into tears when they see you – I mean, that’s the level of anxiety that’s out there.”
For the past two weeks, protests in Madison have been the focus of a nation, as angry public-sector workers have descended on the Capitol to try to stop Walker’s proposal to roll back most of their collective bargaining rights, leaving them with the ability to negotiate only limited wage increases.
Next week, the demonstrations could move to many of the state’s 425 school districts, the first local entities that will have to hash out budgets for a fiscal year that starts July 1.

Susan Troller:

Gov. Scott Walker’s secrecy and rhetoric regarding his budget plans are fueling rumors and anxiety as well as a flurry of preliminary teacher layoff notices in school districts around the state.
In Dane County, the Belleville school board voted to send layoff notices to 19 staff members at a meeting on Monday. Both the Madison and Middleton Boards of Education will meet Friday to determine their options and if they will also need to send out layoff notices, given the dire predictions of the governor’s budget which will be announced March 1.
In Madison, hundreds of teachers could receive layoff notices, district officials confirmed. Superintendent Daniel Nerad called it an option that would provide “maximum flexibility under the worst case scenario” in an e-mail sent to board members Thursday evening.
Most districts are bracing, and planning, for that worst case scenario.

New Way to Check Out eBooks

Katherine Boehret:

Get out your library cards: Now you can wirelessly download electronic books from your local library using the Apple iPad or an Android tablet.
Last week, OverDrive Inc. released OverDrive Media Console for the iPad, a free app from Apple’s App Store. With the app, you can now borrow eBooks for reading on the go with a tablet.
You can already borrow an eBook from a library using an eReader, including the Sony Reader and Barnes & Noble Nook, but you’ll need a PC and a USB cable for downloading and synching. Amazon’s Kindle doesn’t allow borrowing eBooks from libraries.
For the past week, I borrowed and wirelessly downloaded digital books onto tablets primarily using OverDrive, the largest distributor of eBooks for libraries. I tested the OverDrive Media Console for the iPad. I also used the Dell Streak 7 tablet to test the app on the Android operating system; this app also works on Android smartphones. An iPhone app is available.

Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think

Bryan Caplan:

We’ve needlessly turned parenting into an unpleasant chore. Parents invest more time and money in their kids than ever, but the shocking lesson of twin and adoption research is that upbringing is much less important than genetics in the long run. These revelations have surprising implications for how we parent and how we spend time with our kids. The big lesson: Mold your kids less and enjoy your life more. Your kids will still turn out fine.
Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids is a book of practical big ideas. How can parents be happier? What can they change–and what do they need to just accept? Which of their worries can parents safely forget? Above all, what is the right number of kids for you to have? You’ll never see kids or parenthood the same way again.

Chinese University scraps exams to boost teaching of classic books

Elaine Yau:

Exams are out, the Great Books are in.
In a far-reaching overhaul of undergraduate education, Chinese University will scrap exams for most mandatory subjects and boost the teaching of both Western and Chinese classics.
The changes are part of the university’s preparation to lengthen degree courses from three years to four years next year.
Details of the overhaul revealed yesterday include a drastic reduction in the number of final exams for mandatory courses in general education, languages, physical education and information technology.
“We will focus on the classics by [authors such as] Adam Smith, Charles Darwin and Karl Marx. We want students to cite classics when thinking about modern problems,” said Leung Mei-yee, director of the university’s general education foundation programme.

100 Extensive University Libraries from Around the World that Anyone Can Access

Mary & Mac:

Universities house an enormous amount of information and their libraries are often the center of it all. You don’t have to be affiliated with any university to take advantage of some of what they have to offer. From digital archives, to religious studies, to national libraries, these university libraries from around the world have plenty of information for you. There are many resources for designers as well. Although this is mainly a blog that caters to designers and artists I have decided to include many other libraries for all to enjoy.

Proposed bill would overhaul Virginia textbook adoption process

Kevin Sieff:

In the wake of a state review that found dozens of errors in Virginia social studies textbooks, Del. David Englin will introduce a bill Monday that would overhaul the state’s textbook adoption process.
The legislation would shift the responsibility of vetting textbooks from panels consisting mostly of school teachers to the publishers. Companies would have to be certified with the Virginia Board of Education before their books are approved for use in public schools.
Last year, textbook review committees approved two books by Five Ponds Press – “Our Virginia, Past and Present” and “Our America to 1865” – that several state-appointed scholars found last month to have dozens of historical inaccuracies.
“As a legislator and a parent, I was shocked and appalled to learn that Virginia social studies textbooks had such egregious factual inaccuracies,” Englin (D-Alexandria) said. “As parents, the bare minimum we expect from textbooks is that the facts are correct.”

Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution

Brian Hayes:

The world’s first technology for writing was invented not by poets or prophets or the chroniclers of kings; it came from bean counters. The Sumerian cuneiform script–made up of symbols incised on soft clay–grew out of a scheme for keeping accounts and inventories. Curiously, this story of borrowing arithmetical apparatus for literary purposes has been repeated in recent times. The prevailing modern instrument for writing–the computer–also began as (and remains) a device for number crunching.
Dennis Baron’s extended essay A Better Pencil looks back over the entire history of writing technologies (clay tablets, pens, pencils, typewriters), but the focus is on the recent transition to digital devices. His title implies a question. Is the computer really a better pencil? Will it lead to better writing? There is a faction that thinks otherwise:

Book: A Revolutionary Adventure

Join Mattie and Josh, the sister-brother team who discover the mysterious Chaos Cave. Ghostly breezes chill their spines as they try to interpret strange petro glyphs and a note of warning. The kids stumble upon a skeleton whose bones rest around an ancient Chinese Puzzle Box. Inside the box they find a ring–a ring that will change their lives forever.
Chaos Cave transports Mattie and Josh on A Revolutionary Adventure as the kids travel through time to Boston, 1775. They encounter the evil Archie, who murdered his own brother and now seeks the ring for all the power it holds. While they desperately try to evade Archie, they must also find a way to return safely to their own time without altering the course of important historic events.

Google’s Book Trove Yields Cultural Clues

Robert Lee Hotz

Language analysts, sifting through two centuries of words in the millions of books in Google Inc.’s growing digital library, found a new way to track the arc of fame, the effect of censorship, the spread of inventions and the explosive growth of new terms in the English-speaking world.
In research reported Thursday in the journal Science, the scientists at Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Google and the Encyclopedia Britannica unveiled a database of two billion words and phrases drawn from 5.2 million books in Google’s digital library published during the past 200 years. With this tool, researchers can measure trends through the language authors used and the names of people they mentioned.
It’s the first time scholars have used Google’s controversial trove of digital books for academic research, and the result was opened to the public online Thursday.

English as she was spoke The days of English as the world’s second language may (slowly) be ending

The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel. By Nicholas Ostler – The Economist:

ENGLISH is the most successful language in the history of the world. It is spoken on every continent, is learnt as a second language by schoolchildren and is the vehicle of science, global business and popular culture. Many think it will spread without end. But Nicholas Ostler, a scholar of the rise and fall of languages, makes a surprising prediction in his latest book: the days of English as the world’s lingua-franca may be numbered.
Conquest, trade and religion were the biggest forces behind the spread of earlier lingua-francas (the author uses a hyphen to distinguish the phrase from Lingua Franca, an Italian-based trade language used during the Renaissance). A linguist of astonishing voracity, Mr Ostler plunges happily into his tales from ancient history.

The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel

Does Charles Dickens Matter?

Wall Street Journal:

Being named to Oprah Winfrey’s book club is a boon to working authors, but this week the talk show host dug into literary history and named as her latest pick two novels by Charles Dickens: “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Great Expectations.”
Setting down our paged-through copy of Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom” for a bit, Speakeasy has been thinking about Dickens’ legacy. Will modern readers relate to the impoverished 19th century social conditions that are so associated with Dickens’ work — is yesterday’s chimney sweep today’s downsized auto worker? We put the issue to two Dickens scholars: Michael Slater, author of a well-reviewed biography, “Charles Dickens” (Yale University Press) and Lillian Nayder, author of “The Other Dickens: A Life of Catherine Hogarth” (Cornell University Press) about the novelist’s wife.

The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel

Laura Marsh

While English is the most widely-spoken lingua franca in history, so-called common or working languages can be much less pervasive. Elamite, for example, was the submerged administrative language of the Persian Empire in the sixth century B.C.E. All official documents were written down in Elamite, but they were both composed and read out in Persian, the language of the illiterate ruling class. Then there is Pali, the language of Theravada Buddhism. No longer used in everyday conversation, Pali is written in different scripts in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Burma, and sounds different when read aloud by Thai and Burmese speakers. The identity of the language is almost obscured by its profusion of forms.
Pali is a tantalizing case for Nicholas Ostler, because it suggests to him the possibility of a “virtual” language. A “virtual language” would not be read or spoken itself. It would allow the user to understand what is being written or said without learning the original language–in much the same way that “virtual reality” allows the user to have an experience of something without actually doing it. Pali is not “one language” in the concrete sense that it has one set of words, but those who know any of its forms can access exactly the same information. Yet on closer inspection this is not because it is a “virtual language.” It is because the differences between its forms are largely superficial. However the words are pronounced or written down, they mean the same thing. It is one language after all.

In Africa, the Laureate’s Curse

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani:

THE Nobel Prize in Literature was presented to Mario Vargas Llosa at an awards ceremony on Friday in Oslo. This reawakened the disappointment felt by many fans of African literature, who had hoped that this would be the year for the Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o. But there’s actually reason to celebrate Mr. Ngugi’s loss. African literature is better off without another Nobel … at least for now.
A Nigerian publisher once told me that of the manuscripts she reads from aspiring writers, half echo Chinua Achebe and half try to adopt Wole Soyinka’s style. Mr. Achebe and Mr. Soyinka, who won the continent’s first Nobel in literature in 1986, are arguably the most celebrated black African writers, especially in terms of Western accolades. But their dominance causes problems in a region where the common attitude is, “If it already works, why bother to improve on it?”

In Jane Austen 2.0, the Heroines And Heroes Friend Each Other

Arden Dale & Mary Pilon

Ben Kemper, 19, plans to wear a frock coat with cuffs to the annual Jane Austen birthday tea in Boise, Idaho, on Saturday.
The outfit will be “the whole shebang,” says Mr. Kemper, who hopes to scare up some yard work so he can pay for the new threads. He says his costume may include riding boots, a cane, gloves and a buttoned vest.
Mr. Kemper is among an unlikely set of fans of the long-dead Ms. Austen–young people. The English novelist best known for “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility” has been dead since 1817, yet she is drawing a cultish pack of young people, especially young women, known as “Janeites” who are dedicated to celebrating all things Austen.

I, Reader

Alexander Chee

My books have moved with me from Maine to Connecticut to San Francisco to New York, to Iowa to New York to Los Angeles to Rochester to Amherst and now to New York once again. I’m a writer, also the child of two people who were each the ones in their family to leave and move far away, and the result is a life where I’ve moved regularly, and paid to ship most of my books so often I’m sure I’ve essentially repurchased them several times over. Each time I move, my books have grown in number. Collectively, they’re the autobiography of my reading life. Each time I pack and unpack them, I see The Phoenicians, a picture history book my father gave me as a child, and will never sell; the collection of Gordon Merrick paperbacks I shoplifted when I was a closeted teenager, stealing books no one would ever let me buy. The pages still retain the heat of that need, as does my copy of Joy Williams’s Breaking and Entering, bought when I was a star-struck college student at the Bennington Summer Writers’ Workshop 20 years ago. Each time they were all necessary, all differently necessary.
In the life of a New Yorker, a new book is a crisis the exact size of one new book. I spent three hours scrutinizing the shelves for weak links that could go to the used bookstore, projecting either into the past–When had I read this book and why?–or the future–Would I ever read this again, or even read it?–and filled three bags. I held my two mass-market paperback editions of Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays, bought at Church Street Books in San Francisco in 1990–one to own and one to lend–and after all this time, put the second into the bag. The one remaining now a reminder that I once had two.

Seattle School Board considers request to pull ‘Brave New World’ from curriculum

Sean Collins Walsh

A request by a Seattle parent to have the 1931 novel “Brave New World” removed from Seattle Public Schools’ literature curricula will be considered — and possibly decided — at a Seattle School Board meeting Wednesday evening.
Parent Sarah Sense-Wilson has persuaded Nathan Hale High School administrators to drop the distopian Aldous Huxley novel from its Language Arts class, which her daughter took last year. But she has not been as successful in her attempts to have the book removed from literature curricula districtwide.
Having been denied by Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, Sense-Wilson will make her case this evening to the board, the final appeal under district rules.
Sense-Wilson, a Native American, said she and her daughter found the book offensive for its numerous uses of the word “savages.”

Why We Can’t Afford Not to Create a Well-Stocked National Digital Library System

David Rothman

E-book gadgets have finally cracked the mass market here in the United States or at least have come a long way.
Consider a memorable Kindle commercial from Amazon, in which a brunette in a bikini one-ups an oafish man reading off a rival machine. Mr. Beer Belly asks about her e-reader. “It’s a Kindle,” she says by the pool. “$139. I actually paid more for these sunglasses.” Mad Men would be proud. A year or two from now, count on twice as much ballyhoo and on better machines for less than $99.
I myself own both a Kindle 3 and the Brand X iPad and can attest to the improved readability of the latest E Ink from Amazon’s supplier, even indoors, despite lack of built-in illumination. Outside on walks, as with earlier Kindles, I can listen to books from publishing houses savvy enough to allow text to speech. No matter where I am, I can instantly see all occurrences of a character’s name in an engrossing Louis Bayard novel. I can also track down the meanings of archaic words that Bayard’s detective narrator uses in this murder mystery set at West Point and featuring a fictionalized Edgar Allan Poe.

A Mixed Welcome For Chinese-Americans, a long road to acceptance–even to public schooling.

Melanie Kirkpatrick:

In the 1960s, when she was in her 90s, Mamie Tape Lowe liked to tell her great-grandchildren the story of her first day of school in San Francisco in 1884. On a warm day in September, Mamie’s mother dressed her in a checkered pinafore, tied a ribbon in her hair and took her to the Spring Valley Primary School on Union Street. When they arrived, the principal, Jennie Hurley, refused to let her in. In Mamie’s telling, “they said all the ‘pigtails’ would be coming” if they admitted Mamie. But her father “fought like heck” and sued the board of education. Mamie’s great-grandchildren, who were fifth- generation Americans, marveled that there was a time when Chinese-American children were denied an education or had to attend a separate school for “Orientals.”
The lawsuit filed by her father on Mamie’s behalf–eventually decided by the California Supreme Court a year later–is a little-known landmark in the history of Chinese in America, but it is at the center of the most interesting chapter in “The Lucky Ones” by Columbia University historian Mae Ngai. “The Lucky Ones” follows three generations of the Tape family, from the 1860s, when Mamie’s parents arrived in San Francisco from China, to 1943, when the exclusion laws were lifted and Chinese in America achieved full democratic rights. Ms. Ngai uses the Tape family’s history as a vehicle to describe the emergence of a Chinese-American middle class in an era when the vast majority of Chinese immigrants were illiterate male “coolies.”

The paper book is dead, long live the narrative

Nicholas Negroponte

Kindle owners buy twice as many books as non-Kindle owners. Just one of the many signs that while the paper book is dead, the narrative will live on.
If you are saying to yourself, “That sounds horrible. I hope books do not go away,” I ask you to consider the world’s poorest and most remote kids.
The manufactured book stunts learning, especially for those children. The last thing these children should have are physical books. They are too costly, too heavy, fall out-of-date and are sharable only in some common and limited physical space.

Will the Book Survive Generation Text?

Carlin Romano

Over the next 10 years, scientific experts will be dealing with “extreme weather.” No one knows how weird and dangerous it will get.
Moscow already faces Bahrain-like temperatures. Downpours swamp a fifth of Pakistan. President Mohamed Nasheed, of the Maldives, worries enough about future sea levels to hold a cabinet meeting underwater in scuba gear. (Don’t miss this on YouTube!)
Parallel thinking should apply to a phenomenon of greater concern to readers here: “extreme academe.” Think of it as the hysterical upgrading of ugly visions of the future already found in polite critiques of higher ed.
Back in 2003, for instance, former Harvard President Derek Bok, in Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education (Princeton University Press), drilled home the problem capsulized in his subtitle by noting that throughout the 1980s, deans and professors brought him “one proposition after another to exchange some piece or product of Harvard for money–often, quite substantial sums of money.”

My Reasons for Optimism on Education: Across the country, new institutions like charter schools are disproving the old assumption that economic circumstances determine outcomes.

Wendy Kopp

Last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the latest winners of Race to the Top, the initiative he devised to leverage federal dollars to drive education reform at the state level. While no grant process is perfect, the competition drove a remarkable volume of new plans and even new laws designed to advance educational opportunity. Many states showed boldness–and I’m particularly excited that all 12 winning states mentioned Teach For America in their applications.
This fall marks Teach For America’s 20th anniversary, and I have spent much of the summer reflecting on the sea change that has taken place in public education over the last two decades.
When we set out to recruit our first corps of teachers in 1990, it would be fair to say that there was no organized movement to ensure educational opportunity for all children in our nation. The prevailing assumption in most policy circles was that socioeconomic circumstances determined educational outcomes. Thus, it was unrealistic to expect teachers or schools to overcome the effects of poverty.
When Jaime Escalante led a class of East Los Angeles students to pass the AP calculus exam in 1982, the Educational Testing Service questioned the results, and Hollywood went on to make the hit movie “Stand and Deliver” about his success. Escalante was lionized as an outlier–not as someone whose example could be widely replicated.

Ms. Kopp is the founder and CEO of Teach For America. She is the author of the forthcoming book “A Chance to Make History: What Works and What Doesn’t in Providing an Excellent Education for All” (PublicAffairs).

Oxford English Dictionary ‘will not be printed again’

Alastair Jamieson

The next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, the world’s most definitive work on the language, will never be printed because of the impact of the internet on book sales.
Sales of the third edition of the vast tome have fallen due to the increasing popularity of online alternatives, according to its publisher.
A team of 80 lexicographers has been working on the third edition of the OED – known as OED3 – for the past 21 years.
The dictionary’s owner, Oxford University Press (OUP), said the impact of the internet means OED3 will probably appear only in electronic form.
The most recent OED has existed online for more than a decade, where it receives two million hits a month from subscribers who pay an annual fee of £240.

An educational odyssey across three generations

Hector Tobar:

Striving to be a dad, I read “The Odyssey” this summer.
You probably know the story. Odysseus is trying to make his way back home from the battlefield at Troy. He’s been away at war for two decades.
But the gods punish him again and again on the sea journey home. With each new disaster that befalls him, Odysseus longs more for his wife and son. Finally he reaches the soil of his beloved Ithaca and speaks this line lamenting all he had lost by seeking glory in battle:
…I had no love for working the land, the chores of household either, the labor that raises crops of shining children.
That line caught my attention because I was reading “The Odyssey” precisely to help raise my family “crop.” My 14-year-old son enters high school in a few weeks and “The Odyssey” was his assigned summer reading.

Raising a Left-Brain Child in a Right-Brain World

Katharine Beals, Trumpeter Books, 2009 Reviewed by Barry Garelick, via email

Many school parents question the value of today’s homework assignments. They rightly wonder whether their children are getting the education they need in order to succeed in college. For the most part, they are well-meaning parents who were educated from the 1950’s through the 1970’s in a different style–a style derided by the current power elite in graduate schools of education and school administration. They describe the schoolroom remembered by today’s parents as: sitting in rows, facing front, listening passively to a teacher who talked to the blackboard, “memorizing by rote”, and thinking uncritically. In today’s classrooms, students are given a minimal amount of instruction, and instead are presented with a question–say a math problem–told to form groups and work out an approach to solving the problem. Or if not a math problem, they are told to discuss an aspect of a book they are reading. Homework assignments are often art projects, in which students must construct dioramas of the climactic event of a story they read, or decorate a tissue box with German phrases to help them learn the language, or put together a family tree with photographs and label each with the Spanish term for their place in the family.
In Raising a Left-brain Child in a Right-brain World, Katharine Beals explores today’s classrooms and describes in detail why this approach is particularly destructive and ineffective for students who are shy, awkward, introspective, linear and analytic thinkers. She is careful to explain that her use of the term “left brained” is her way of categorizing students who are linear thinkers–who process information by learning one thing at a time thoroughly before moving on to the next. (I use the term in the same fashion in this review.)
A particularly powerful passage at the beginning of the book describes the difficulties that left-brained children face and provides a stark and disturbing contrast with the traditional classrooms that the parents of these children remember:

Making matters worse is how today’s informal discussions favor multiple solutions, personal opinions, and personal connections over single correct answers. In previous generations the best answer, exerting an absolute veto power, favored the studious over the merely charismatic; how that there is no best answer, extroversion is king. … To fully appreciate the degree to which today’s classrooms challenge our children, we should consider how they might have fared in more traditional schools. Imagine how much more at ease they might be in general, and how their attitudes toward school might improve, if they enjoyed the privacy of quietly listening to teachers lecture instead of having to talk to classmates. …Imagine if they could read to themselves instead of to a group, do math problems on their own, and find, in the classroom, a safe haven from school yard dynamics. (p. 23)

Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century

John McWhorter

This book is depressing because it is so persuasive. There is a school of thought in America which argues that the government must be the main force that provides help to the black community. This shibboleth is predicated upon another one: that such government efforts will make a serious difference in disparities between blacks and whites. Amy Wax not only argues that such efforts have failed, she also suggests that such efforts cannot bring equality, and therefore must be abandoned. Wax identifies the illusion that mars American thinking on this subject as the myth of reverse causation–that if racism was the cause of a problem, then eliminating racism will solve it. If only this were true. But it isn’t true: racism can set in motion cultural patterns that take on a life of their own.
Wax appeals to a parable in which a pedestrian is run over by a truck and must learn to walk again. The truck driver pays the pedestrian’s medical bills, but the only way the pedestrian will walk again is through his own efforts. The pedestrian may insist that the driver do more, that justice has not occurred until the driver has himself made the pedestrian learn to walk again. But the sad fact is that justice, under this analysis, is impossible. The legal theory about remedies, Wax points out, grapples with this inconvenience–and the history of the descendants of African slaves, no matter how horrific, cannot upend its implacable logic. As she puts it, “That blacks did not, in an important sense, cause their current predicament does not preclude charging them with alleviating it if nothing else will work.”

The Great Brain Race

Michael Alison Chandler

How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World
By Ben Wildavsky. Princeton Univ. 240 pp. $26.95
Globalization is changing the food we eat, the way we communicate and, increasingly, the way we go to college. Nearly 3 million students were enrolled in universities outside their borders in 2009, a 57 percent increase over the previous decade, according to the Institute of International Education, which facilitates exchange programs.
“The Great Brain Race,” by Ben Wildavsky, takes a comprehensive look at today’s worldwide marketplace for college students — with stops in such places as Singapore, South Korea and Saudi Arabia, where western schools, including the University of Chicago and potentially George Mason University, are opening satellite campuses or where local governments are making heavy investments in American-style research universities. The author, a former education editor at U.S. News & World Report, also explores the latest attempts to rate the world’s top colleges now that more students are degree-shopping across borders.

More choices alter college textbook landscape

Eric Gorski:

On Friday afternoons between work and rugby practice, Brittany Wolfe would rush to the campus library hoping copies of her advanced algebra textbook had not all been checked out by like-minded classmates.
It was part of the math major’s routine last quarter at the University of California, Los Angeles: Stand in line at the reserve desk in the library’s closing hours with the goal of borrowing a copy for the weekend.
The alternative was to buy a $120 book and sell it back for far less. If she could sell it back at all.
“It’s like this terrible game of catch your books when you can,” said Wolfe, a new graduate who estimates she saved $800 a year using books on reserve and who now shares textbook tips as a counselor to incoming UCLA students. “It’s frustrating when you’re already stressed about school. Being stressed about textbooks doesn’t seem right.”

Bedside Table: Words, Words, Words

The Economist:

Robert Lane Greene is an international correspondent for The Economist, currently covering American politics and foreign policy online. His book on the politics of language around the world, “You Are What You Speak”, will be published by Bantam (Random House) in the spring of 2011.
Monitors of language-usage are often seen as either scolds or geeks. Which book do you recommend to convey what is fascinating about language?
After years of reading about language for pleasure and then researching for my own book, I’d still refer anyone who asks back to the book that lit a fire for me a decade or so ago: Steven Pinker’s “The Language Instinct” (written about by The Economist here). You can take or leave Mr Pinker’s case that all human languages share a few common features, and that those features are wired into our grey matter (rather than, say, an extension of our general intelligence). But whatever your views on this subject, it’s hard to read the book and then happily go back to seeing language as a set of iron-bound rules that are constantly being broken by the morons around you. Instead, you start seeing this human behaviour as something to be enjoyed in its fascinating variability.

Scholastic makes inroads into Arabic children’s book market

Geraldine Baum:

Sensing a business and cultural opportunity, Scholastic carefully translates English-language books like “Heidi” and “The Magic School Bus” to be used at schools in several Arab-speaking countries.
The publisher was on a rare and delicate mission to translate and mass-market books from America for a part of the world that often rails against American values.
Carol Sakoian, a vice president of Scholastic Inc., brought a small group of Arab officials into a conference room to screen a stack of stories. They read and read, about caterpillars, volcanoes, Amelia Earhart, and a big red dog named Clifford.

Kids’ books: Winners of Newbery, Caldecott medals share their inspiration

Karen MacPherson:

“Inspirational” is the best word to describe the American Library Association’s annual summer conference, at least for lovers of children’s and teen literature.
For the ALA’s summer meeting is the time when the authors and illustrators who have won the organization’s top awards — the Newbery and Caldecott Medals, as well as a host of others — come and give their acceptance speeches.
The speeches are consistently thought-provoking and thoughtful, as authors and illustrators assess how the creative process, coupled with their life experiences, have brought them to the point of winning a top children’s-literature award.
Two of the best speeches are invariably given by the winners of the Caldecott and Newbery Medals, and this year was no exception.

Melissa Westbrook has more.

Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation

John McWhorter:

In 2000, in a book called Losing the Race, I argued that much of the reason for the gap between the grades and test scores of black students and white students was that black teens often equated doing well in school with “acting white.” I knew that a book which did not focus on racism’s role in this problem would attract bitter criticism. I was hardly surprised to be called a “sell-out” and “not really black” because I grew up middle class and thus had no understanding of black culture. But one of the few criticisms that I had not anticipated was that the “acting white” slam did not even exist.
I was hardly the first to bring up the “acting white” problem. An early description of the phenomenon comes from a paper by John Ogbu and Signithia Fordham in 1986, and their work was less a revelation of the counterintuitive than an airing of dirty laundry. You cannot grow up black in America and avoid the “acting white” notion, unless you by chance grow up around only white kids. Yet in the wake of Losing the Race, a leading scholar/activist on minority education insisted that he had never encountered the “acting white” slander–while shortly thereafter describing his own son doing poorly in school because of precisely what Ogbu, Fordham, myself, and others had written about. Jack White, formerly of Time, roasted me in a review for making up the notion out of whole cloth. Ogbu (with Astrid Davis) published an ethnological survey of Shaker Heights, Ohio describing the “acting white” problem’s effects there in detail, while a documentary on race and education in that town explicitly showed black students attesting to it. Both book and documentary have largely been ignored by the usual suspects.
Stuart Buck at last brings together all of the relevant evidence and puts paid to two myths. The first is that the “acting white” charge is a fiction or just pointless marginal static. The other slain myth, equally important, is that black kids reject school as alien out of some sort of ingrained stupidity; the fear of this conclusion lies at the root of the studious dismissal of the issue by so many black thinkers concerned about black children. Buck conclusively argues that the phenomenon is a recent and understandable outgrowth of a particular facet of black people’s unusual social history in America–and that facet is neither slavery nor Jim Crow.

Clusty Search: Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation, by Stuart Buck.
Related: Madison Teachers’ Harlem trip’s aim is to aid ‘culturally relevant’ teaching.

The Common Core Math Standards: When Understanding is Overrated

Barry Garelick, via email:

Earlier this month, the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI)–a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)–issued the final version of its math standards for K-12.
The draft standards were released in March and CCSSI allowed the public to submit comments on the draft via their website. Over 10,000 comments were received. The U.S. Coalition for World Class Math was one of the commenter’s and I had a hand in drafting comments. We were concerned with the draft standards’ use of the word “understand” and pointed out that the use of this verb results in an interpretation by different people for different purposes. I am pleased to see that the final version of the standards has greatly reduced the use of the word “understand”, but I remain concerned that 1) it still is used for some standards, resulting in the same problems we raised in our comments, and 2) the word “understand” in some instances has been replaced with “explain”.
I am not against teaching students the conceptual underpinnings of procedures. I do not believe, however, that it is necessary to require students to then be able to recite the reasons why a particular procedure or algorithm works; i.e., to provide justification. At lower grade levels, some students will understand such explanations, but many will not. And even those who do may have trouble articulating the reasons. The key is whether they understand how such procedure is to be applied, and what the particular procedure represents. For example, does a student know how to figure out how many 2/3 ounce servings of yogurt are in a ¾ ounce container? If the student knows that the solution is to divide ¾ by 2/3, that should provide evidence that the student understands what fractional division means, without having to ask them to explain what the relationship is between multiplication and division and to show why the “invert and multiply” rule works each and every time.

Are books just as good as summer school? Study: Free books give low-income kids academic lift

Associated Press:

Can a $50 stack of paperbacks do as much for a child’s academic fortunes as a $3,000 stint in summer school?
Researchers think so. Now, an experimental program in seven states — including the Chicago Public Schools — will give thousands of low-income students an armful of free books this summer.
Research has shown that giving books to kids might be as effective at keeping them learning over the summer as summer school — and a lot cheaper. The big questions are whether the effect can be replicated on a large scale — and whether it can help reduce the achievement gap between low-income and middle-class students.
Schools have always tried to get students to read over the summer. For middle-class students, that’s not as big a deal. They usually have access to books, says Richard Allington, a reading researcher at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

How brain drains will save the world

Jay Matthews:

In this era of rising college expectations — more applications, more students and more university places than ever — we Americans remain very insular. We think nothing can be better than Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford or some other moldy brick institution high on the U.S. News list. A few adventurous U.S. students are enrolling in Canadian and British schools, but nobody talks about that in the high school cafeteria or the PTA.
Our self-regard is, in some ways, justified. On most international ratings, one of the topics of Ben Wildavsky’s intriguing new book “The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World,” U.S. colleges still dominate the top 10. But Wildavsky reveals that that will probably change. Students in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America are beginning to speak as knowledgeably about France’s Ecole Polytechnique, the Indian Institutes of Technology and Britain’s University of Leicester as they do about Columbia and Caltech. Many foreign universities are catching up with ours.
In our comfortable spot at the top of the world’s higher ed pyramid, we are ignoring one of the most powerful trends of the 21st century — a growing free trade in great minds. Wildavsky, a senior fellow in research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation, argues that this will make this era more innovative, and more prosperous, than any that human civilization has seen.

Books in the home ‘boost children’s education’

Graeme Paton:

Keeping just 20 books in the home can boost children’s chances of doing well at school, according to a major study.
Regular access to books has a direct impact on pupils’ results, irrespective of parents’ own education, occupation and social class, it was claimed.
Researchers said that children coming from a “bookish home” remained in education for around three years longer than young people born into families with empty bookshelves.
The study, led by Nevada University, in the United States, comes despite continuing concerns over a decline in reading at school.
It is feared that some teachers are being forced to dump books – and teach children using basic worksheets – to boost their performance in literacy tests.
Michael Rosen, the former Children’s Laureate, has said that many pupils now go all the way through their formative years at school without reading a single novel.

Investing in the Poor

Alex Tabarrok:

The Unincorporated Man is a science fiction novel in which shares of each person’s income stream can be bought and sold. (Initial ownership rights are person 75%, parents 20%, government 5%–there are no other taxes–and people typically sell shares to finance education and other training.)
The hero, Justin Cord a recently unfrozen business person from our time, opposes incorporation but has no good arguments against the system; instead he rants on about “liberty” and how bad the idea of owning and being owned makes him feel. The villain, in contrast, offers reasoned arguments in favor of the system. In this scene he asks Cord to remember the starving poor of Cord’s time and how incorporation would have been a vast improvement:

How English erased its roots to become the global tongue of the 21st century

Robert McCrum:

‘Throw away your dictionaries!’ is the battle cry as a simplified global hybrid of English conquers cultures and continents. In this extract from his new book, Globish, Robert McCrum tells the story of a linguistic phenomenon – and its links to big money.
Globalisation is a word that first slipped into its current usage during the 1960s; and the globalisation of English, and English literature, law, money and values, is the cultural revolution of my generation. Combined with the biggest IT innovations since Gutenberg, it continues to inspire the most comprehensive transformation of our society in 500, even 1,000, years. This is a story I have followed, and contributed to, in a modest way, ever since I wrote the BBC and PBS television series The Story of English, with William Cran and Robert MacNeil, in the early 1980s. When Bill Gates was still an obscure Seattle software nerd, and the latest cool invention to transform international telephone lines was the fax, we believed we were providing a snapshot of the English language at the peak of its power and influence, a reflection of the Anglo-American hegemony. Naturally, we saw our efforts as ephemeral. Language and culture, we knew, are in flux. Any attempts to pin them down would be antiquarianism at best, doomed at worst. Besides, some of the experts we talked to believed that English, like Latin before it, was already showing signs of breaking up into mutually unintelligible variants. The Story of English might turn out to be a last hurrah.

“The Other Wes Moore”: The felon and the Rhodes scholar

Thomas Rogers:

In late 2000, Wes Moore, an ex-military officer and soon-to-be Rhodes scholar, came across a series of articles in the Baltimore Sun that caught his attention. They chronicled the aftermath of a robbery gone awry: A few months earlier a group of armed men had broken into a Baltimore jewelry store, and in the process of making their escape, shot and killed an off-duty police officer named Bruce Prothero. It wasn’t just the violence of the act that shocked Moore, it was the name of one of the suspects: Wes Moore.
Several years later, when Moore (the Rhodes scholar) returned from his studies at Oxford, the story continued to haunt him. Here were two men with the same name, from the same city, even the same age, and two dramatically different trajectories. In the hopes of finding out why, Moore began writing and visiting the man (who had since been sentenced to life in prison). The result is “The Other Wes Moore,” Moore’s vivid and richly detailed new book about both men’s childhoods in Baltimore and the Bronx.

Explosive book for a new teacher generation

Jay Matthews:

A storm is brewing in teacher training in America. It involves a generational change that we education writers don’t deal with much, but is more important than No Child Left Behind or the Race to the Top grants or other stuff we devote space to. Our urban public schools have many teachers in their twenties and thirties who are more impatient with low standards and more determined to raise student achievement than previous generations of inner city educators, having seen some good examples. But they don’t know what exactly to do.
This new cohort is frustrated with traditional teacher training. They think most education schools are too fond of theory (favorite ed school philosopher John Dewey died in 1952 before many of their parents were born) and too casual about preparing them for the practical challenges of teaching impoverished children.

The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges

Paul Caron:

Since I am touring colleges with my daughter this week in advance of the May 1 acceptance deadline, I was particularly struck by the law prof blogosphere discussion (here and here) of The Price of Admission : How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges–and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates, by Daniel Golden. From the Washington Post’s review:

Stepping into this cauldron of anxiety about admission to elite colleges is Daniel Golden, a Wall Street Journal reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for a series of articles on the inner workings of college admissions offices. In his provocative and stimulating book, The Price of Admission, Golden makes a powerful case that the number of well-to-do whites given preference to highly selective colleges dwarfs that of minorities benefiting from affirmative action. He follows this central theme in a wide-ranging series of case studies of systematic preference for the wealthy, the privileged and the famous, as well as legacies, faculty children and — most innovatively — athletes in such patrician sports as rowing, horseback riding, fencing and even polo. A tough investigative reporter, Golden does not hesitate to name names — not only of specific institutions (including Harvard, Duke, Brown, Notre Dame, the University of Virginia, Princeton, Stanford and Amherst) and administrators, but also of individual students (including the sons of Al Gore and Sen. Bill Frist) whom he deems to be beneficiaries of preferences for the privileged. The result is a disturbing exposé of the influence that wealth and power still exert on admission to the nation’s most prestigious universities.
That virtually all elite private colleges give preference to the sons and daughters of alumni will come as a surprise to no one. But preference also extends to wealthy applicants whose families have been identified as potential donors — “development cases” in the parlance of the trade. Golden documents that even Harvard, with its $25.9 billion endowment, is not above giving preference to the scions of the super-rich. His primary example, however, of development cases being central to the admissions process is Duke, where the university embarked on a systematic strategy of raising its endowment by seeking out wealthy applicants. Golden estimates that Duke admitted 100 development applicants each year in the late 1990s who otherwise would have been rejected. Though this may be something of an extreme case, special consideration for applicants flagged by the development office is standard practice at elite colleges and universities.
Also enjoying substantial preference at elite colleges, both public and private, are varsity athletes. In a fascinating case study of women’s sports at the University of Virginia, Golden shows how the effort to comply with Title IX, a gender equity law that has the praiseworthy goal of ensuring equality between female and male athletes, has had the unintended effect of giving an admissions edge to female athletes who play upper-class sports. Between 1992 and 2002, the number of college women nationwide in rowing, a sport highly concentrated in private schools and affluent suburbs, rose from 1,555 to 6,690; more recently, the number of female varsity horseback riders increased from 633 to 1,175 between 1998 and 2002. The net effect of the rise of these overwhelmingly patrician sports, Golden argues, has been to further advantage already advantaged women.

Ravitch is Wrong Week, Day #1

Stuart Buck:

Diane Ravitch’s new book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education” has been burning up the charts. Ravitch has been ubiquitous, writing op-eds in support of her book, doing lectures and interviews all over the place, and being reviewed in all sorts of high-profile venues.
As an overall matter, the book says little, if anything, that is actually new on the subjects of testing and choice. What Ravitch is really selling with this book is the story of her personal and ideological conversion. Not so long ago, she was writing articles like “In Defense of Testing,” or “The Right Thing: Why Liberals Should Be Pro-Choice,” a lengthy article in The New Republic that remains one of the most passionate and eloquent defenses of school choice and vouchers in particular. Now she seems to be a diehard opponent of these things. But she’s not saying anything that other diehard opponents haven’t already said countless times.

Where Do School Funds Go?

Marguerite Roza:

Imagine if a school were to spend more per pupil on ceramics electives than core science classes. What if a district were to push more funding to wealthy neighborhoods than to impoverished ones? Such policies would provoke outrage. Yet these schools and districts are real.
Today’s taxpayers spend almost $9,000 per pupil, roughly double what they spent 30 years ago, and educational achievement doesn’t seem to be improving. With the movement toward holding schools and districts accountable for student outcomes, we might think that officials can precisely track how much they are spending per student, per program, per school. But considering the patchwork that is school finance–federal block funding, foundation grants, earmarks, set-asides, and union mandates–funds can easily be diverted from where they are most needed.

Clusty Search: Marguerite Roza.

The End of History (Books)

Marc Aronson:

TODAY, Apple’s iPad goes on sale, and many see this as a Gutenberg moment, with digital multimedia moving one step closer toward replacing old-fashioned books.
Speaking as an author and editor of illustrated nonfiction, I agree that important change is afoot, but not in the way most people see it. In order for electronic books to live up to their billing, we have to fix a system that is broken: getting permission to use copyrighted material in new work. Either we change the way we deal with copyrights — or works of nonfiction in a multimedia world will become ever more dull and disappointing.
The hope of nonfiction is to connect readers to something outside the book: the past, a discovery, a social issue. To do this, authors need to draw on pre-existing words and images.

History of School Reform Offers Glimmer of Hope

Laura Impellizzeri:

Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning” (Belknap Press, 336 pages, $25.95) by Paul E. Peterson: Education reformers have left the essential teacher-pupil relationship untouched for more than a century, fighting instead for changes outside the classroom: desegregation, teacher pay hikes, funding equality, increased testing, vouchers and changes in curriculum.
Harvard University government professor Paul Peterson argues that although many of those efforts have been well-intentioned, even noble, American schools haven’t kept pace with changes in society. And they’re just not very good.
In a compelling and enlightening narrative, “Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning,” Peterson traces a variety of reform movements by profiling their leaders or other key players. Horace Mann fostered public schools nationwide, creating a global model in the 19th century; in the early 1900s, John Dewey pushed for education that respected children as individuals and erased social strata; the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in leading the civil rights movement, forced schools to start doing as courts and legislators told them; Albert Shanker pushed for better pay and conditions for teachers; a series of “rights” reformers tried to improve quality across the board, while a series of scholars measuring their work found precious little benefit, and that led to the “adequacy” and choice movements, including the push for publicly funded vouchers and charter schools, which together involve less than 10 percent of U.S. schoolchildren.

Books that Have Influenced Me the Most

Will Wilkinson:

Tyler started this nice meme. I’m a bit skeptical about the reliability of introspection and memory, and I think this kind of thing generally reflects one’s favorite current self-construction rather than real influence, so I’ll try to avoid that, but I won’t entirely. I guess I’ll do this roughly chronologically, and leave out the Bible and the Book of Mormon…
1. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer. This book made me realize that it is possible to play with words and ideas. I can’t even remember much of the story now. (Is it Milo?) What I remember is the revelation that it is possible to get a thrill from manipulating ideas and the words that express them.
2. Dune by Frank Herbert. The Dune books connected with me deeply as a teenager. They appealed, I think, to the sense that people have profound untapped powers that discipline can draw out; e.g., Mentats, Bene Gesserit. Also, it appealed to the fantasy that I might have special awesome hidden powers, like Paul Atreides, and that they might just sort of come to me, as a gift of fate, without the hassle of all that discipline. I think this book is why I was slightly crushed when I turned 18 and realized that not only was I not a prodigy, but I wasn’t amazingly good at anything. I sometimes still chant the Litany against Fear when I’m especially nervous or panicking about something.

At Compton school, teen tutors and adult students learn from each other

Nicole Santa Cruz:

As part of a Compton Adult School tutoring program, adults trying to pass the California High School Exit Examination get an assist from Palos Verdes High students.
Brandy Rice eyed the test question.
She thought of what her tutor directed her to do: Read the entire sentence. Read all the answers.
Instead of playing multiple-choice roulette with the answers as she had so many times before, she followed the directions.
Rice, 26, was one of 20 Compton Adult School students in a tutoring program for the California High School Exit Examination. The tutors weren’t teachers, but teenagers from Palos Verdes High School.
The tutors carpooled from the green, laid-back beach community on a hill to Compton every Saturday for five weeks. Most had never before been to Compton and weren’t used to getting up at 7 a.m. on a weekend.

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures Under Ground – Introduction

Online Gallery:

This manuscript – one of the British Library’s best – loved treasures – is the original version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll, the pen-name of Charles Dodgson, an Oxford mathematician.
Dodgson was fond of children and became friends with Lorina, Alice and Edith Liddell, the young daughters of the Dean of his college, Christ Church. One summer’s day in 1862 he entertained them on a boat trip with a story of Alice’s adventures in a magical world entered through a rabbit-hole. The ten-year-old Alice was so entranced that she begged him to write it down for her. It took him some time to write out the tale – in a tiny, neat hand – and complete the 37 illustrations. Alice finally received the 90-page book, dedicated to ‘a dear child, in memory of a summer day’, in November 1864.

We don’t know how to fix bad schools

Rod Dreher:

From Slate’s review of Dianne Ravitch’s new book, in which the former advocate of No Child Left Behind and charter schools admits they’ve failed. Excerpt:

The data, as Ravitch says, disappoints on other fronts, too–not least in failing to confirm high hopes for charter schools, whose freedom from union rules was supposed to make them success stories. To the shock of many (including Ravitch), they haven’t been. And this isn’t just according to researchers sympathetic to labor. A 2003 national study by the Department of Education (under George W. Bush) found that charter schools performed, on average, no better than traditional public schools. (The study was initially suppressed because it hadn’t reached the desired conclusions.) Another study by two Stanford economists, financed by the Walton Family and Eli and Edythe Broad foundations (staunch charter supporters), involved an enormous sample, 70 percent of all charter students. It found that an astonishing 83 percent of charter schools were either no better or actually worse than traditional public schools serving similar populations. Indeed, the authors concluded that bad charter schools outnumber good ones by a ratio of roughly 2 to 1.
Obviously, some high-visibility success stories exist, such as the chain run by the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, which I’ve previously discussed here. But these are the decided exceptions, not the rule. And there’s no evidence that a majority of eligible families are taking advantage of charters, good or bad. “While advocates of choice”–again, Ravitch included–“were certain that most families wanted only the chance to escape their neighborhood school, the first five years of NCLB demonstrated the opposite,” she writes. In California, for example, less than 1 percent of students in failing schools actually sought a transfer. In Colorado, less than 2 percent did. If all this seems a little counterintuitive, Ravitch would be the first to agree. That’s why she supported charters in the first place. But the evidence in their favor, she insists, simply hasn’t materialized.

Algebra in Wonderland

Melanie Bayley:

SINCE “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was published, in 1865, scholars have noted how its characters are based on real people in the life of its author, Charles Dodgson, who wrote under the name Lewis Carroll. Alice is Alice Pleasance Liddell, the daughter of an Oxford dean; the Lory and Eaglet are Alice’s sisters Lorina and Edith; Dodgson himself, a stutterer, is the Dodo (“Do-Do-Dodgson”).
But Alice’s adventures with the Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and so on have often been assumed to be based purely on wild imagination. Just fantastical tales for children — and, as such, ideal material for the fanciful movie director Tim Burton, whose “Alice in Wonderland” opened on Friday.
Yet Dodgson most likely had real models for the strange happenings in Wonderland, too. He was a tutor in mathematics at Christ Church, Oxford, and Alice’s search for a beautiful garden can be neatly interpreted as a mishmash of satire directed at the advances taking place in Dodgson’s field.
In the mid-19th century, mathematics was rapidly blossoming into what it is today: a finely honed language for describing the conceptual relations between things. Dodgson found the radical new math illogical and lacking in intellectual rigor. In “Alice,” he attacked some of the new ideas as nonsense — using a technique familiar from Euclid’s proofs, reductio ad absurdum, where the validity of an idea is tested by taking its premises to their logical extreme.

Ravitch Is Right… and Wrong

Alan Gottlieb:

I spent part of the last two weekends reading Diane Ravitch’s new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. It’s part polemic and part confessional.
Ravitch, once an ardent supporter of charter schools, accountability and other market-based reforms, has done a dramatic, highly public 180-degree turn. She now says these approaches will destroy public education if allowed to continue unfettered.
A former federal education official (under Bush I and Clinton) and an influential writer and thinker on education, Ravitch’s change of heart is attracting national notice, and with good reason.
Her book, while exhibiting some of the new convert’s zeal and bombast, contains thought-provoking stuff. While I don’t agree with some of her conclusions, and though she paints some people as villains who don’t deserve the abuse, she also makes some compelling arguments that those of us pushing some of the reforms she now abhors would be wise to ponder.

Spring reading: The Demise of the Venerable Codex, or Bound Book….

Tim Martin:

The demise of the venerable codex, or bound book, has been predicted at least since 1899, when HG Wells in The Sleeper Awakes envisaged the entire corpus of human literature reduced to a mini-library of “peculiar double cylinders” that would be viewable on a screen. More informed commentators have been arguing since the computer became domesticised in the 1980s that it would herald the end of print but, each time, the predicted end of days has rolled around with no sign of an apocalypse. As the joke goes, books are still cheap, robust and portable, and the battery life is great.
Most of us are in no hurry to see them go. This week the UK’s early version of World Book Day rolls around with its freight of £1 children’s books (the rest of the world gets around to it on April 23). Meanwhile, Oxford has just launched upon the public its lavish Companion to the Book, a vast work of reference seven years in the making in which some 400 scholars chart the forms that books have taken since mankind began scratching out characters.
But it seems reasonable to think that change is afoot. At the time of writing, an American court is in the process of reconsidering the settlement that Google reached with the Authors Guild in 2008, allowing the company to digitise thousands of books, including many still in copyright. The case has caused heated debate – court documents this week revealed that more than 6,500 authors, many well-known, have decided to opt out of the Google settlement. The case continues: its outcome promises to transform the way in which we view and access information. If Google has its way, one of the world’s largest companies will end up with unchallenged distribution rights over one of the world’s largest book collections.

The Dictionary of Old English explores the brutality and elegance of our ancestral tongue.

Ammon Shea:

“Dictionaries are like watches, the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true.” So said Samuel Johnson, according to James Boswell–and if any man can get away with making a pithy, slightly nonsensical, yet somehow illuminating statement about the merits of dictionaries, repositories of our language, it is Johnson.
Watches and other kinds of clocks may not “go quite true” yet, but they have managed to attain such a degree of exactness that the point is largely moot. The most accurate form of timekeeper available today, a cesium fountain atomic clock, is expected to become inaccurate by no more than a single second over the next fifty-plus million years (although it is by no means clear what other clock might be used to judge the world’s most accurate timekeeper).
What of dictionaries? Have they been improved to the same extent as clocks? Is there somewhere a dictionary that is expected to be wrong by only one word in the next fifty million years?

Book: From A Wisconsin Soapbox

Mark H. Ingraham Dean Emeritus, College of Letters & Science, University of Wisconsin
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, University of Wisconsin [Click to view this 23MB PDF “book”]:

Part I Liberal Education
The Omnivorous Mind 3
Given May 16, 1962, to the University of Wisconsin Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. Republished from The Speech Teacher of September 1962.
Truth-An Insufficient Goal 17
The Keniston Lecture for 1964 at the University of Michi- gan; March 17, 1964. Republished from the Michigan Quarterly Review of July 1964.
On the Adjective “Common” 31
An editorial for the February 1967 Review of the Wisconsin Academy of Arts, Letters, and Sciences, February 23, 1967.
Part II Educational Policy
Super Sleep-A Form of Academic Somnambulism 37
First given as retiring address as President of A.A. U.P . This much revised version was given to the Madison Literary Club, March 12, 1940.
No, We Can’t; He Has a Committee Meeting 57
Madison Literary Club; May 11, 1953.
Is There a Heaven and a Hell for Colleges? 70
Commencement address, Hiram College; June 8, 1958.
The College of Letters and Science 79
Talk given to the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin, May 3, 1958.
Some Half Truths About the American Undergraduate 84
Orientation conference for Whitney-Fulbright Visiting Scholars. Sarah Lawrence College, September 6, 1962.
Maps Versus Blueprints 94
Honors Convocation, University of Wisconsin, May 18, 1973.
Part III To Students
A Talk to Freshmen 103
University of Wisconsin; September 18, 1951
Choice: The Limitation and the Expression of Freedom 112
Honors Convocation, University of Wisconsin; June 17, 1955. Republished from the Wisconsin Alumnus.
“The Good is Oft Interred with Their Bones” 121
Commencement, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh; Janu- ary 19, 1968.
Talk at Honors Convocation at Ripon College
Talk at Honors Convocation at Ripon College 129
April 9, 1969
The Framework of Opportunity 136
Thanksgiving Address, University of Wisconsin; November, 1947
Part IV A Little Fun
Food from a Masculine Point of View 149
Madison Literary Club; November 11, 1946
On Telling and Reading Stories to Children 165
Attic Angel Tower, Madison, Wisconsin; March 6, 1978
Three Limericks 179
Fragments 181
a. From an address given to the University oF Wyoming Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, April 26, 1965
b. A comment
Part V Somewhat Personal
Letter of Resignation from Deanship 185
April 5, 1961
Retirement Dinner Talk 188
May 24, 1966

Thanks to Richard Askey for extensive assistance with this digitized book. Search Mark Ingraham.

How Corrupted Language Moved from Campus to the Real World

Harvey Silvergate:

In some quarters I’m viewed as a lawyer with a professional identity problem: I’ve spent half of my time representing students and professors struggling with administrators over issues like free speech, academic freedom, due process and fair disciplinary procedures. The other half I’ve spent representing individuals (and on occasion organizations and companies) in the criminal justice system.
These two seemingly disparate halves of my professional life are, in fact, quite closely related: The respective cultures of the college campus and of the federal government have each thrived on the notion that language is meant not to express one’s true thoughts, intentions and expectations, but, instead, to cover them up. As a result, the tyrannies that I began to encounter in the mid-1980s in both academia and the federal criminal courts shared this major characteristic: It was impossible to know when one was transgressing the rules, because the rules were suddenly being expressed in language that no one could understand.
In his 1946 linguistic critique, Politics and the English Language, George Orwell wrote that one must “let meaning choose the word, not the other way around.” By largely ignoring this truism, administrators and legislators who craft imprecise regulations have given their particular enforcement arms—campus disciplinary staff and federal government prosecutors—enormous and grotesquely unfair power.

Ten rules for writing fiction

Elmore Leonard, Diana Athill, Margaret Atwood, Roddy Doyle, Helen Dunmore, Geoff Dyer, Anne Enright, Richard Ford, Jonathan Franzen, Esther Freud, Neil Gaiman, David Hare, PD James, AL Kennedy:

Get an accountant, abstain from sex and similes, cut, rewrite, then cut and rewrite again – if all else fails, pray. Inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, we asked authors for their personal dos and don’ts
Elmore Leonard: Using adverbs is a mortal sin
1 Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a charac ter’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.
2 Avoid prologues: they can be annoying, especially a prologue ­following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks.”

Will Fitzhugh…has been fighting for more non-fiction for years: Help pick non-fiction for schools

Jay Matthews:

It wasn’t until I was in my fifties that I realized how restricted my high school reading lists had been, and how little they had changed for my three children. They were enthusiastic readers, as my wife and I were. But all, or almost all, of the required books for either generation were fiction.
I am not dismissing the delights of Twain, Crane, Buck, Saroyan and Wilder, all of which I read in high school. But I think I would also have enjoyed Theodore H. White, John Hersey, Barbara Tuchman and Bruce Catton if they had been assigned.
Maybe that’s changing. Maybe rebellious teens these days are fleeing Faulkner, Hemingway, Austen, and Baldwin, or whoever is on the 12th grade English list, and furtively reading Malcolm Gladwell, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin and other non-fiction stars.
Sadly, no.
The Renaissance Learning company released a list of what 4.6 million students read in the 2008-2009 school year, based on its Accelerated Reader program that encourages children to choose their own books. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter has given way to the hormonal allure of Stephenie Meyer’s teen vampire books, but both school and non-school books are still almost all fiction.
When I ask local school districts why this is, some get defensive and insist they do require non-fiction. But the only title that comes up with any frequency is Night, Elie Wiesel’s story of his boyhood in the Holocaust. It is one of only two nonfiction works to appear in the top 20 of Accelerated Reader’s list of books read by high schoolers. The other is ‘A Child Called ‘It,’ Dave Pelzer’s account of his alleged abuse as a child by his alcoholic mother.
Will Fitzhugh, whose Concord Review quarterly publishes research papers by high school students, has been fighting for more non-fiction for years. I agree with him that high school English departments’ allegiance to novels leads impressionable students to think, incorrectly, that non-fiction is a bore. That in turn makes them prefer fiction writing assignments to anything that could be described by that dreaded word “research.”
A relatively new trend in student writing is called “creative nonfiction.” It makes Fitzhugh shudder. “It allows high school students (mostly girls) to complete writing assignments and participate in ‘essay contests’ by writing about their hopes, experiences, doubts, relationships, worries, victimization (if any), and parents, as well as more existential questions such as ‘How do I look?’ and ‘What should I wear to school?'” he said in a 2008 essay for
Educators say non-fiction is more difficult than fiction for students to comprehend. It requires more factual knowledge, beyond fiction’s simple truths of love, hate, passion and remorse. So we have a pathetic cycle. Students don’t know enough about the real world because they don’t read non-fiction and they can’t read non-fiction because they don’t know enough about the real world.
Educational theorist E.D. Hirsch Jr. insists this is what keeps many students from acquiring the communication skills they need for successful lives. “Language mastery is not some abstract skill,” he said in his latest book, The Making of Americans. “It depends on possessing broad general knowledge shared by other competent people within the language community.”
I think we can help. Post comments here, or send an email to, with non-fiction titles that would appeal to teens. I will discuss your choices in a future column. I can see why students hate writing research papers when their history and science reading has been confined to the flaccid prose of their textbooks. But what if they first read Longitude by Dava Sobel or A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar? What magical exploration of reality would you add to your favorite teenager’s reading list?

Learning as We Go: Why School Choice Is Worth the Wait

Paul Hill via a Center on Reinventing Public Education email:

Why haven’t schools of choice yet achieved a broader appeal? Publicly funded school choice programs–charter schools in forty-three states and vouchers in a few localities–have for the most part been qualified successes. Yet the rhetoric of choice supporters promised much more effective schools and an era of innovation that has not come to pass. In Learning as We Go: Why School Choice Is Worth the Wait, Paul T. Hill examines the real-world factors that can complicate, delay, and in some instances interfere with the positive cause-and-effect relationships identified by the theories behind school choice.
Hill explains why schools of choice haven’t yet achieved a broader appeal and details the key factors–including politics, policy, and regulation–that explain the delay. The author then suggests changes in public policy along with philanthropic investment that could overcome barriers and increase the rate of progress toward full operation of what he calls the “virtuous cycle” stimulated by school choice.

Give students a reality check: Assign more nonfiction books.

Jay Matthews:

It wasn’t until I was in my 50s that I realized how restricted my high school reading lists had been and how little they had changed for my three children. They were enthusiastic readers, as my wife and I were. But all, or almost all, of the required books for both generations were fiction.
I am not dismissing the delights of Twain, Crane, Buck, Saroyan and Wilder, all of which I read in high school. But I think I also would have enjoyed Theodore H. White, John Hersey, Barbara Tuchman and Bruce Catton if they had been assigned.
Could that be changing? Maybe rebellious teens these days are fleeing Faulkner, Hemingway, Austen and Baldwin, or whoever is on the 12th grade English list, and furtively reading Malcolm Gladwell, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin and other nonfiction stars.
Sadly, no. The Renaissance Learning company released a list of what 4.6 million students read in the 2008-09 school year, based on its Accelerated Reader program, which encourages children to choose their own books. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter has given way to the hormonal allure of Stephenie Meyer’s teen vampire books, but both school and non-school books are still almost all fiction.

Digital Books and Your Rights: A Checklist for Readers

Electronic Frontier Foundation:

After several years of false starts, the universe of digital books seems at last poised to expand dramatically. Readers should view this expansion with both excitement and wariness. Excitement because digital books could revolutionize reading, making more books more findable and more accessible to more people in more ways than ever before. Wariness because the various entities that will help make this digital book revolution possible may not always respect the rights and expectations that readers, authors, booksellers and librarians have built up, and defended, over generations of experience with physical books.
As new digital book tools and services roll out, we need to be able to evaluate not only the cool features they offer, but also whether they extend (or hamper) our rights and expectations.
The over-arching question: are digital books as good or better than physical books at protecting you and your rights as a reader?

Do School Libraries Need Books?

Room for Debate:

Keeping traditional school libraries up to date is costly, with the constant need to acquire new books and to find space to store them. Yet for all that trouble, students roam the stacks less and less because they find it so much more efficient to work online. One school, Cushing Academy, made news last fall when it announced that it would give away most of its 20,000 books and transform its library into a digital center.
Do schools need to maintain traditional libraries? What are the educational consequences of having students read less on the printed page and more on the Web?

If you really want to hear about it …

Nikola Krastev:

The seminal coming-of-age novel, The Catcher in the Rye, came out in 1951 during a time of anxious, Cold War conformity. The book by J D Salinger, the reclusive American author who died last week at the age of 91, featured its immortal teenage protagonist – the anguished, rebellious Holden Caulfield.
The book struck a chord with American teenagers who identified with the novel’s themes of alienation, innocence and rebellion.
But when the novel was translated into Russian during the “Khrushchev thaw”, its anti-hero’s tormented soul-searching also reverberated among admirers throughout the Soviet bloc.
Nad propastyu vo rzhi was first published in the Soviet Union in the November 1960 issue of the popular literary magazine Inostrannaya Literatura (Overseas Literature). The translation became an instant sensation, and dog-eared copies of the magazine were passed from reader to reader.
Boris Paramonov, a Russian philosopher and contributor to RFE/RL’s Russian Service, says he and his Russian friends and colleagues instantly recognized that it was a book that would endure.

A Talk with Ellie Schatz: WCATY Founder and Author of “Grandma Says It’s Good to be Smart”

I enjoyed meeting and talking with Ellie Schatz recently. Listen to the conversation via this 17MB mp3 audio file CTRL-Click to download or read the transcript. Parent and activist Schatz founded WCATY and is, most recently author of “Grandma Says it’s Good to Be Smart“.
I enjoyed visiting with Ellie and found the conversation quite illuminating. Here’s a useful segment from the 37 minute interview:

Jim: What’s the best, most effective education model these days? Obviously, there are traditional schools. There are virtual schools. There are chartered schools. There are magnets. And then there’s the complete open-enrollment thing. Milwaukee has it, where the kids can go wherever they want, public or private, and the taxes follow.
Ellie: [32:52] I think there’s no one best model from the standpoint of those models that you just named. [32:59] What is important within any one of those models is that a key player in making that education available to your child believes that no matter how good the curriculum, no matter how good the model, the children they are about to serve are different, that children are not alike.
[33:30] And that they will have to make differences in the curriculum and in the way the learning takes place for different children.
[33:45] And I have experienced that myself. I’ve served on the boards of several private schools here in the city, and I have given that message: “This may be an excellent curriculum, and I believe it’s an excellent curriculum. But that’s not enough.”
[34:05] You cannot just sit this curriculum down in front of every child in the classroom and say, “We’re going to turn the pages at the same time, and we’re going to write the answers in the same way.” It does not work that way. You must believe in individually paced education.
[34:24] And that’s why I say the WCATY model cannot change. If it’s going to accomplish what I set out for WCATY to do, it must be accelerated from the nature of most of the curriculum that exists out there for kids today.

Thanks to Rick Kiley for arranging this conversation.

Book shares Chicago recipe for good schools

Alan Borsuk:

I think I have about as good a handle as anyone on the reasons to feel depressed about the Milwaukee school situation. I’ve been giving talks to groups around the city fairly often lately. I jokingly refer to it as my Spreading Gloom tour.
But at heart, I still am optimistic. Why?
Because I’ve had the privilege of visiting some schools lately that offer hope. There are too few of them, but they exist. You find them in the Milwaukee Public Schools system, among the private schools supported by public vouchers, and among the charter schools that operate outside MPS. I expect to feature some of them in upcoming columns.
Because there is ample reason to believe that other urban school systems are doing better than Milwaukee. Every school district that is dominated by children coming from impoverished settings has big struggles. But other cities are showing more success and exhibiting more energy than we are, and I don’t know any convincing reason why Milwaukee needs to be behind the pack so often. Certainly, this could be changed if we did the right things.
Because things have to get better in terms of the educational success of kids for the city, the metropolitan area and even the state to thrive, and I somehow think awareness of that will eventually create enough pressure to bring improvement.
And – my specific subject for today – because of a new book.

Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago.

A study in intellectual uniformity: The Marketplace of Ideas By Louis Menand

Christopher Caldwell:

As his title hints, Louis Menand has written a business book. This is good, since the crisis in American higher education that the Harvard professor of English addresses is a business crisis. The crisis resembles the more celebrated one in the US medical system. At its best, US education, like US healthcare, is of a quality that no system in the world can match. However, the two industries have developed similar problems in limiting costs and keeping access open. Both industries have thus become a source of worry for public-spirited citizens and a punchbag for political opportunists.
Menand lowers the temperature of this discussion. He neither celebrates nor bemoans the excesses of political correctness – the replacement of Keats by Toni Morrison, or of Thucydides by queer theory. Instead, in four interlocking essays, he examines how university hiring and credentialing systems and an organisational structure based on scholarly disciplines have failed to respond to economic and social change. Menand draws his idea of what an American university education can be from the history of what it has been. This approach illuminates, as polemics cannot, two grave present-day problems: the loss of consensus on what to teach undergraduates and the lack of intellectual diversity among the US professoriate.
Much of today’s system, Menand shows, can be traced to Charles William Eliot, president of Harvard for four decades after 1869. Faced with competition from pre-professional schools, Eliot had the “revolutionary idea” of strictly separating liberal arts education from professional education (law, medicine, etc), and making the former a prerequisite for the latter. Requiring a lawyer to spend four years reading, say, Molière before he can study for the bar has no logic. Such a system would have made it impossible for Abraham Lincoln to enter public life. Funny, too, that the idea of limiting the commanding heights of the professions to young men of relative leisure arose just as the US was filling up with penurious immigrants. Menand grants that the system was a “devil’s bargain”.

Clusty Search: Louis Menand – “The Marketplace of Ideas”.

The Americanization of “mental illness”

Andrea James:

During my guestblogging stint, I have mentioned a couple of American expats who exported their problematic conceptions of “mental illness” all over the world from their base in Toronto. Ken Zucker and Ray Blanchard are egregious examples of this problem, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s one of the most important political issues of the 21st century, but it is one of the most difficult for both practitioners and the general public to step back and see in its historical and geopolitical context. It involves challenging some of the most deeply held beliefs about how the world works.
Today, the New York Times has an excellent introduction to the concept, by Ethan Watters, author of Therapy’s Delusions. It’s a good overview of his upcoming book. Quoth Ethan:

Benefit Book for Bibi Jann School in Dar Es Salaam

via a Susan Hobart email:

Susan J Hobart
Teacher, Grades 4/5
Lake View Elementary School
1802 Tennyson Lane
Madison, Wisconsin 53704 USA

Articles and Books on Mathematics Education

The winter 2009-2010 issue of “American Educator”, has a number of interesting articles. Here are two of interest for people interested in mathematics education.
Daniel Willingham “Is It True That Some People Just Can’t Do Math”
Patsy Wang-Iverson, Perla Myers, and Edmund Lim W.K. “Beyond Singapore’s Mathematics Textbooks – Focused and Flexible Supports for Teaching and
The first has a number of useful references as well as comments. Here is one. There have been many papers written in Madison on student’s lack of understanding of the equal sign. I once asked Liping Ma if this was a problem in China. She said that as far as she knew it was not. There is confirmation of this in one of the references.
Four questions asked of sixth grade students in the U.S. and China.

The paper which includes this is “Sources of Differences in Children’s Understanding of Mathematical Equality: Comparative Analysis of Teacher Guides and Student Texts in China and the United States”, by Xiaobao Li, Meixia Ding, Mary Margaret Capraro, Robert M. Capraro. It appeared in Cognition and Instruction, vol. 26, no. 2, pages 195-217, in 2008.
The second article in American Educator has comments on curriculum, teacher induction and education and support while teaching. There is also a one page supplemental article on teacher professional development and evaluation by Susan Sclafani and Edmund Lim W.K.
In addition there have been two very interesting books on school mathematics education written by mathematicians. The first is “Arithmetic for Parents: A Book for Grownups about Children’s Mathematics” by Ron Aharoni, Sumizdat, 2007. An article by Aharoni about his experience teaching mathematics in an elementary school in Israel can be read here. This is a good introduction to his book, and more useful details are in the
The second is “And All the Children Are Above Average: A Review of The End of Ignorance: Multiplying Our Human Potential” by John Mighton, a Canadian mathematician and playwright. The paperback version of this book was published by Vintage Canada. You can read about Mighton here. and there is also information about his math program JUMP here. This program was developed after Mighton learned a number of things while tutoring students who had significant problems in learning elementary mathematics. A review of this book by David Kirshner appeared in the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education in the January, 2010 issue.

The Gift of Learning

Ellie Schatz, via a kind reader’s email:

What better gift to give that special child than the message that learning is cool. Most children really think that naturally as they begin to explore their world by walking, talking, and gaining new skills at a rapid rate as toddlers and preschoolers. A cartoon in the Dec. 14 “The New Yorker” shows two little kids in a sandbox. The older one says to the younger one: “It’s all learning-is-fun and invented spelling, and then-bam!- second grade.”
What’s wrong with second grade? As a teacher, consultant, longtime educational specialist, it is sad to often see fewer smiles and sparkling eyes with each advancing grade of school. Rather than continuing to believe that learning is fun, cool, an ultimate aim, too many children dumb down, hide their talents, and proceed in a lock-step method of learning that doesn’t fit them and holds little appeal. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Schatz founded WCATY and has written a new book: Grandma Says It’s Good to Be Smart.

Stones Into Schools

Greg Mortenson via Jay Matthews:

Greg Mortenson’s first book, “Three Cups of Tea,” was a gravity-defying, wide-screen, wilderness adventure. It began with the author’s failed attempt to climb the world’s second-highest mountain. It included a daring rescue, a bonding with an alien tribe in a tiny cliffside village and his establishment of several dozen schools in Taliban territory despite being kidnapped and threatened with death.
That book, which came out in 2006, was a publishing-industry cliffhanger, too. Mortenson hated the subtitle Penguin insisted on: “One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism One School at a Time.” It sold nicely in hardcover, enough to merit a paperback edition and to persuade the publisher to insert Mortenson’s preferred subtitle: “One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time.”

A holiday guide to books for kids

Jay Matthews:

I share this secret only with recluses like myself who lack the imagination to conceive of any gift better than a book. If you are buying for a child — particularly if you are in a last-minute Christmas shopping panic — scan this list compiled by a company called Renaissance Learning.
It is an amazing document. Parents who keep track of what their children are doing in school, particularly in this area, might be vaguely aware of Renaissance Learning and its famous product, Accelerated Reader, the most influential reading program in the country. It was started 23 years ago by Judi Paul and her husband, Terry, after she invented on her kitchen table a quizzing system to motivate their children to read.
Students read books, some assigned but many chosen on their own, and then take computer quizzes, either online or with Accelerated Reader software, to see whether they understood what they read. Students compile points based in part on the difficulty and length of each book and sometimes earn prizes from their schools.

The College Fear Factor: How Students and Professors Misunderstand One Another

Rebecca Cox:

They’re not the students strolling across the bucolic liberal arts campuses where their grandfathers played football. They are first-generation college students–children of immigrants and blue-collar workers–who know that their hopes for success hinge on a degree.
But college is expensive, unfamiliar, and intimidating. Inexperienced students expect tough classes and demanding, remote faculty. They may not know what an assignment means, what a score indicates, or that a single grade is not a definitive measure of ability. And they certainly don’t feel entitled to be there. They do not presume success, and if they have a problem, they don’t expect to receive help or even a second chance.
Rebecca D. Cox draws on five years of interviews and observations at community colleges. She shows how students and their instructors misunderstand and ultimately fail one another, despite good intentions. Most memorably, she describes how easily students can feel defeated–by their real-world responsibilities and by the demands of college–and come to conclude that they just don’t belong there after all.
Eye-opening even for experienced faculty and administrators, The College Fear Factor reveals how the traditional college culture can actually pose obstacles to students’ success, and suggests strategies for effectively explaining academic expectations.

Off the Shelf: Fear and Loathing in High School

Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

If you went to my high school and weren’t in attendance on the first day back from summer break — say, you had been on vacation with your parents an extra day, or you had come down with the flu — a rumor that you were pregnant and out getting an abortion went hastily through the locker-lined halls. In 10th grade, it happened to me (I had been sick), and, from then on, I wanted to write about a popular girl who is mistaken for pregnant by her schoolmates. The girl must hand in her homecoming crown, withdraw from student government, where she is president, and give up her football-captain/quarterback boyfriend.
Years went by, and I did become a writer — a screenwriter, not a novelist. I wrote this story to mixed reviews. “Interesting premise,” said one agent. “But not much story there.” I chalked it up to the particular necessities of those who buy and produce screenplays: They need shocking, cinematic events. They need things to blow up.
I decided to write the story as a young adult novel. I have always loved and admired YA novels, as much for their alternate themes of devastation and lightheartedness as for how influential they can be in their readers’ lives. I sat down to write the story and finished it in a couple of months. But before I sent it to an agent who was interested, I did something I never thought I could do: I deleted it.

The Global Achievement Gap

Sara Bennett:

While I’m recommending books…. I recently read The Global Achievement Gap, by Tony Wagner, an excellent book about the failures of today’s secondary schools and how schools prepare students to memorize facts rather than problem solve. He identifies seven skills necessary to survive in the 21st century: critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration across networks; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurialism; effective oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information; and developing curiosity and imagination. He takes “learning walks” through schools, and provides snapshots of school days, both good and bad. I wish every principal would read this book, take a learning walk of her/his own, and then implement many of the wonderful suggestions for ways to engage students in a meaningful way.

Disruptive Innovation: Nature’s Scitable Replaces Life Sciences Textbooks

Patty Seybold:

Just over a year ago, Nature Publishing Group’s new Education Division quietly launched the Beta of a revolutionary idea: Replace expensive textbooks with a free collaborative learning space for science. went live in January, 2008 and has quickly become a magnet for serious students of genetics (the first field that Nature is addressing).
Now, a year after its beta, is alive and well. Students and faculty from all over the world are actively using Scitable’s resources to teach and learn about genetics.
What can you do on Scitable?

Books that introduce kids to art and artists

Susan Faust:

How wild and wonderful imaginings are realized in architecture is the subject of Building on Nature: The Life of Antoni Gaudí, written by San Francisco author Rachel Rodríguez and illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Holt; 32 pages; $16.99; ages 5-8). Curvy structures such as the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona “sparkle and glitter and whisper with joy,” according to this charming portrait of their Catalonian designer.

Stylized gouache art pays playful homage to Gaudí, his work and the natural world that taught him about light and form. And in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when “green” was just a color, he practices recycling. Broken dishes and tiles morph into fantastic surfaces that embody the value-added confluence of imagination and innovation.

Bad Title, Mind-Changing Book

Jay Matthews:

We education writers receive many books in the mail with terrible titles, real slumber-time stuff. Here are some on my bookshelf: “Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools”;| “Rethinking High School Graduation Rates & Trends”; and “SREB Fact Book on Higher Education.”
Those volumes proved to be pretty good, as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t throw them out. I mention this because on top of that stack is a new book that sets the record for largest gap between quality of work and liveliness of title.
It is “Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses: Solving the Funding-Achievement Puzzle in America’s Public Schools” by Eric A. Hanushek and Alfred A. Lindseth| I forced myself to read it because it was on the agenda of a conference I was attending.
I’m glad I did. It is enlightening, maddening, hopeful, frustrating and amazingly informative, all in just 411 pages. I don’t like admitting this, but it even changed my mind on a hot issue, the connection between U.S. schools and U.S. economic success.
I probably would have read “Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses” cq that serial comma eventually, because Hanushek is one of the bad boy economists who have been providing some of the most provocative education research. I don’t know Lindseth, an attorney and national expert on school finance law, but the chapters on that subject were very good, and comprehensible, so he also deserves some credit.

Google’s Book Search: A Disaster for Scholars

Geoffrey Nunberg:

Whether the Google books settlement passes muster with the U.S. District Court and the Justice Department, Google’s book search is clearly on track to becoming the world’s largest digital library. No less important, it is also almost certain to be the last one. Google’s five-year head start and its relationships with libraries and publishers give it an effective monopoly: No competitor will be able to come after it on the same scale. Nor is technology going to lower the cost of entry. Scanning will always be an expensive, labor-intensive project. Of course, 50 or 100 years from now control of the collection may pass from Google to somebody else–Elsevier, Unesco, Wal-Mart. But it’s safe to assume that the digitized books that scholars will be working with then will be the very same ones that are sitting on Google’s servers today, augmented by the millions of titles published in the interim.
That realization lends a particular urgency to the concerns that people have voiced about the settlement –about pricing, access, and privacy, among other things. But for scholars, it raises another, equally basic question: What assurances do we have that Google will do this right?
Doing it right depends on what exactly “it” is. Google has been something of a shape-shifter in describing the project. The company likes to refer to Google’s book search as a “library,” but it generally talks about books as just another kind of information resource to be incorporated into Greater Google. As Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, puts it: “We just feel this is part of our core mission. There is fantastic information in books. Often when I do a search, what is in a book is miles ahead of what I find on a Web site.”

Good Books Don’t Have to Be Hard

Lev Grossman:

A good story is a dirty secret that we all share. It’s what makes guilty pleasures so pleasurable, but it’s also what makes them so guilty. A juicy tale reeks of crass commercialism and cheap thrills. We crave such entertainments, but we despise them. Plot makes perverts of us all.
It’s not easy to put your finger on what exactly is so disgraceful about our attachment to storyline. Sure, it’s something to do with high and low and genres and the canon and such. But what exactly? Part of the problem is that to find the reason you have to dig down a ways, down into the murky history of the novel. There was once a reason for turning away from plot, but that rationale has outlived its usefulness. If there’s a key to what the 21st-century novel is going to look like, this is it: the ongoing exoneration and rehabilitation of plot.
Where did this conspiracy come from in the first place–the plot against plot? I blame the Modernists. Who were, I grant you, the single greatest crop of writers the novel has ever seen. In the 1920s alone they gave us “The Age of Innocence,” “Ulysses,” “A Passage to India,” “Mrs. Dalloway,” “To the Lighthouse,” “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” “The Sun Also Rises,” “A Farewell to Arms” and “The Sound and the Fury.” Not to mention most of “In Search of Lost Time” and all of Kafka’s novels. Pity the poor Pulitzer judge for 1926, who had to choose between “The Professor’s House,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Arrowsmith” and “An American Tragedy.” (It went to “Arrowsmith.” Sinclair Lewis prissily declined the prize.) The 20th century had a full century’s worth of masterpieces before it was half over.