Education-related book picks from a Boing Boing reader

Earlier this month I received an email from Shawn Patrick Doyle, a teacher and writer living in Iowa, who blogs about issues of education and learning to write at Good writer, bad writer. His email contained several intriguing book recommendations, so I asked him if I could share it on Boing Boing. With his kind permission, here it is.

201204261152Just finished Made by Hand over the weekend and very much enjoyed it. It drew my attention because I come from a line of tinkerers. Still, I left the book with more confidence that I could take on projects that I once thought beyond me.

Reading the book, I could tell we have an overlap on our bookshelf (I was glad to see the quote from Michael Pollan's A Place of My Own, which I loved), so I wanted to share some books that I feel you might find overlap with your interests. If you've not read it, you may also appreciate Shop Class as Soul Craft by Matthew Crawford. I saw a lot of similarities in the way Crawford and you think about your relationship to the world.

My favorite chapter in you book was the "Learning to Learn" one. I'm an educator by trade, though I have a slightly unconventional position. I work as a Writing Consultant for First-year Students at Cornell College in Mt Vernon Ia, which means that I work on transition to college writing issues both one-on-one with students and in classes. Many of these kids suffer from the No Child Left Behind high school classrooms, but I think that NCLB can't bear all of the blame. It's partly related to the culture of schooling and grades in general, as you say in your book. I love my job because I get to do a lot of the tearing down of barriers and opening up of students' minds about their potential.

To that end, I thought of three books you might like to check out regarding your daughters' educations. The first is Carol Dweck's Mindset, which makes some great arguments about how children (and anyone for that matter) should understand their success. Dweck talks about a "growth mindset" versus a "fixed mindset." A person with a fixed mindset looks at his or her abilities as fixed and immutable. Because of that, they live in fear of failure because they will eventually discover what they can't do. Those with a growth mindset sees their abilities as something they can change and are more likely to have success in the long run. Dweck's work reveals lots of ways that we unintentionally foster the fixed mindset, especially in school classrooms. As someone who always underachieved, the book was revolutionary to me in understanding how and why I held myself back, and it presents one of the fundamental philosophies behind my blog,, which looks at teaching writing and learning to write from the idea that its more than just knowing what a thesis statement is. (I'm planning on doing book reviews on there soon and will definitely be including Made By Hand.)

The second book is Why Students Don't Like School by Daniel T. Willingham, which looks at the ways that school and education is structured in ways that undermine our brain's natural desire to learn. Willingham is a cognitive scientist and does a great job assembling the leading research to show a great number of things about education that are counterintuitive.

The final book is Sian Bielock's Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal about Getting It Right When We Have To. Bielock talks about test anxiety in the book and how it undermines our ability to do well. I have a feeling that if you read it you'll see a lot of new things about the way you tutored your daughter, and you'll get fresh ideas about new approaches. Bielock also is engaged in work on detecting when and why girls pick up the ideas that they are supposed to be deficient at math, which often triggers something called stereotype threat, a concept where members of a group who are thought to have a certain limitation on their abilities will underperform in high stakes testing due to their beliefs. Bielock talks about stereotype threat in the book, but her other research on where girls learn they are supposed to be bad at math is more recent and is not in the book.