Category Archives: Learning

Teacher Bookshelf

Aiding the development of the NBLA has been dozens of authors who have led the way in their fields.  Whether studying how differentiated instruction combines with Understanding by Design or studying small school models, the teachers of the NBLA design team have collected a large bookshelf of resource materials.  We’d like to share these books with you and explain how each book has contributed to the NBLA design. [Note to other teachers: I’ve used Son of Citation Machine at http://citationmachine.net/index2.php?start=# for the MLA format.]

  • Wiggins, Grant and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. 2nd. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2005.
  • Tomlinson, Carol Ann and Jay McTighe. Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design: Connecting Content and Kids. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2006.
  • Wagner, Tony and Robert Kagan. Change Leadership: A Practical Guide to Transforming Our Schools. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006.
  • MacGregor, Mariam. Building Everyday Leadership in All Teens: Promoting Attitudes and Actions for Respect and Success. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, 2007.
  • Wiggins, Grant and Jay McTighe. Schooling by Design: Mission, Achievement and Action. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2007.
  • Lee, Valerie and Douglas Ready. Schools within Schools: Possibilities and Pitfalls of High School Reform. New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 2007.
  • Feldman, Jay. Choosing Small: The Essential Guide to Successful High School Conversion. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2005.

Lords of Finance

As I’ve done over the last couple of years, I go to a bookstore in the beginning of the summer and look for the Pulitzer Prize winners in non-fiction.  This year, it was Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World.  Ah, it was going to be another book comparing the crisis we are in with the Great Depression.  Or at least that is what I thought when I picked up the book.  Ironically, it was given some kind of ‘best book of the year’ by Goldman Sachs.  Hm.  If the current bankers who broke this world thought this was a good book about past bankers who broke their world is a good read, I thought I would give it a try.

Because I have read a heavy amount of books about different issues, events and individuals in history, I usually can determine how and why it was written from the first chapter.  Journalist-historians have a powerful narrative to tell.  They are great at weaving together different facts to make the story a fun read, but usually without much depth of research.  Academic historians are a bit more stuffy.  They love the research and can’t wait to share the two or three hundred footnotes they’ve collected after a decade of basement-dwelling and document reading.

This was a surprising blend of the two.  It reminded me of Timothy Egan’s powerful book on the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Time, and how it was written.  In this case, the story focused on the leaders of the central banks in the nations of the United States, Great Britain, France, and Germany and their role trying to preserve the gold standard and prevent the economic damage caused by World War 1 from destroying their collective economic wealth and prosperity.  By their misplaced actions, they helped strongly to contribute to the same collapse they dreaded.  One voice stands out among this crowd, almost arrogant, but definitely prophetic – John Maynard Keynes.  As a nay-saying economist he more than anyone else saw the dangers of these actions and warned the world about them – to naught.

Another surprise was that the book was written before (actually, part of it was during) the collapse of Lehman Brothers – the rock that began the avalanche.  As with all good lessons in history, this book teaches us our mistakes.  Hopefully we can learn and avoid them in the future.

Slavery by Another Name by Douglas Blackmon

Every year I check out the Pulitzer Prize winners in non-fiction as well as those from the National Book Award.  No matter what the subject, these books usually have two things in common that I love.  First, they are incredibly well researched.  The endnotes themselves tell a story about an author sitting in basements, sorting through thousands of newspaper micro-reels, conducting hundreds of hours of interviews, and plowing through the Library of Congress archives.  They are almost always written by journalists or historians – people who don’t mind diving into a mystery in order to find a story worth telling.  They are also usually people who don’t give up easily on a story – sometimes dedicating themselves to decades of searching for the missing pieces of a puzzle.  The other characteristic of these award winning books is that they usually change your perspective by challenging what you thought you knew about the subject that is the center of the story.

This book does both extremely well.  I’m almost done with it and I am very impressed with the way the author challenges one of the most common understandings about our nation’s past: that slavery ended.  It didn’t.  As a historian, I always knew about the Jim Crow laws of segregation, but I never knew the extent that those racist codes, as well as the underlying assumptions it was based on, created a system where African Americans could be randomly arrested on completely false charges and then sent to prison.  The prisons would engage in a ‘convict-leasing’ system, selling their prisoners to mining companies or plantation owners and then beaten, whipped, chained, worked naked, and even killed – without anyone wondering about it.  The author’s webpage introduces this topic and invites the reader to learn more about these atrocities.  Along with the Without Sanctuary website (concerning lynching), this information is really disturbing, but something very important to include in the study of American history.

Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Godel

One book leads to another.  That’s the way it goes.  Since I was a child, I allowed myself no gaps between the end of one book and the beginning of another.  In many cases, there would be direct causal connections to the choices.  Sometimes there would be jumps and starts, but overall, themes would build and become supported by a continuum of developed and borrowed ideas.

This is the case with Godel.  As stated below, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Anathem, by Neal Stephenson.  I was also deeply impressed with the process that Stephenson constructed and consolidated philosophical parallels between our world and his (in his story).  This was done, in part, because of the work in mathematics and logic by Kurt Godel.  Of course, intent and outcome are rarely coincidental.   As a result, I was attending a very fun and beautiful wedding in New Jersey and one of our friends sitting at the table took out a book and proclaimed that it was one of her favorites and that she had just had it returned to her from a friend.  She wanted to pass it around the table, and since we had just returned from the buffet line and were beginning to eat, it increased the potential for deep conversation at such a festive event.  Most people politely looked at the book (pictured above) and nodded silent approval while moving it passively around the table.  When it got to me, I exclaimed, “GODEL!”, which drew the attention of everyone at our table and the near vicinity.  Being somewhat introverted but also somewhat intellectually isolated with my friends, I pounced on the opportunity to bring a philosophical conversation to the surface.   As a result of my display, I came away from the wedding with a pleasant night of smiles and memories, and a book on Godel.

Trying to understand Godel is another thing entirely.  I needed to build a language in order to understand the concepts while also trying to construct a context to fit that language in.  This is very difficult, since the theories on which Godel’s logic is based call into question how we are able to know that anything is true at all.  Wittgenstein and other colleagues (Einstein for one) also shaped Godel’s thoughts.  Currently, I am still in the process of reading the book, deconstructing my philosophical neural-networks, and replacing them with something that adds ‘incompleteness’ to the logic of existence.  Wish me luck.



Anathem by Neal Stephenson

cvrsml_anathemAnathem, by Neal Stephenson, is an incredible book.  It examines an alternate world in which two societies have developed coexisting, but apart from, one another.  In one society – the Saecular – politics and culture is very similar to our own.  In the other – the Avout – live in seclusion and division from the mainstream society, but have devoted themselves to the perfection of thought by examining different philosophies, arts, technology and more.  The avout live in seclusion, divided by the order to which they belong.  The main character of the story is a young man named Fraa Erasmus.  Through a richly developed story, Erasmus becomes involved in saving his world from the arrival of aliens.  Rather than simply borrowing themes from previous science fiction classics, Stephenson develops his story around the changes brought to each society by their preexisting and currently altered philosophies of existence and reality.  Stephenson develops his own history, philosophy, sociology, and language (even of mathematics and logic) into his story.

According to Publisher’s Weekly:

In this follow-up to his historical Baroque Cycle trilogy, which fictionalized the early-18th century scientific revolution, Stephenson (Cryptonomicon) conjures a far-future Earth-like planet, Arbre, where scientists, philosophers and mathematicians—a religious order unto themselves—have been cloistered behind concent (convent) walls. Their role is to nurture all knowledge while safeguarding it from the vagaries of the irrational saecular outside world. Among the monastic scholars is 19-year-old Raz, collected into the concent at age eight and now a decenarian, or tenner (someone allowed contact with the world beyond the stronghold walls only once a decade). But millennia-old rules are cataclysmically shattered when extraterrestrial catastrophe looms, and Raz and his teenage companions—engaging in intense intellectual debate one moment, wrestling like rambunctious adolescents the next—are summoned to save the world. Stephenson’s expansive storytelling echoes Walter Miller’s classic A Canticle for Leibowitz, the space operas of Larry Niven and the cultural meditations Douglas Hofstadter—a heady mix of antecedents that makes for long stretches of dazzling entertainment occasionally interrupted by pages of numbing colloquy.

Neal Stephenson’s webpage explains much of the thought that went into writing the book in his Acknowledgments section, but there is a movie trailer, video of the author reading the book, excerpts and more.  It’s definitely worth checking out.   There is also a wiki to the book as well.