Right around the end of each school year I piece together a reading list for the summer, then I go to my school and public libraries and start clearing the shelves. COVID forced me to amass a summer reading list out of the books on my shelf at home. As a result, I managed to read several books that I have owned for months or decades. Some were better left on the shelf, but some have been a delight.
Even though schools and libraries are now open, I’m continuing the trend and recently picked up “The Buried Mirror” by Carlos Fuentes. Part history book, part Latin American polemic, I first read the book in its native Spanish (“El espejo enterrado”) in 1998. Some time later I bought the English version, put it on a shelf, and never looked at it again. Until now.
Fuentes opens the book with reflections on the relationship between Spain and the New World. Above all else, he characterizes the relationship as “a debate with ourselves.” In the process he evokes a W.B. Yeats quote:
And if out of our arguments with others we make politics, advised W.B. Yeats, out of our arguments with ourselves we make poetry.
Fuentes, p. 15
The original Yeats quotes is as follows:
We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.
Let’s not let slip the opportunity to quarrel with ourselves. Let’s, in every occasion possible, make poetry.
This unexpected gem came from the Editor’s Note in a recent issue of Runner’s World magazine.
Here’s to encouraging as much “lean back” time for our kids as possible. Silent Sustained Reading and other such activities designed to encourage reading for pleasure should also include a conversation about why we read and why reading on paper is so important. There’s a time for funnels and a time for filters.
Soapbox moment: The term “business book” troubles me because the category unnecessarily creates a degree of separation from industries (such as education) that sorely need to learn what some of the world’s great thinkers are thinking. What if we called them “insight books.” Perhaps they would wind up in teachers’ stockings around the holidays. End of moment.
Now to the books.
The brain is a thinking tool, not a storage device. -David Allen
David Allen, Getting Things Done.
Reason why teachers should read it:
Teachers fill a number of positions for which they receive no formal training (budget forecasting, project management, etc.). Aside from the obvious learning gaps this presents, teachers need superb organizational skills which are largely “solved” with a visit to the Container Store. David Allen’s productivity methodology, if part of the common PD profile for teachers, would allow teachers to free up their psychic RAM (the words of the author) so that they may do the “real work”–realizing the best educational outcomes for their kids.
The premise itself behind the need for GTD productivity methodology (and recently reiterated by the author during his interview on the Simplify podcast). If we took this axiom with us to planning meetings, parent meetings, PLC meetings, I suspect the decisions we make around curriculum and assessment design would see significant changes.
Kerry Patterson, et al., Crucial Conversations
Reasons why teachers should read it:
Two truths about schools: they are hierarchical and they are siloed. This combination makes change difficult. The change that most impacts schools is not of the technical or mechanical sort; it is deeply linked to individual teacher philosophy and identity. (“I’m a traditional/progressive/strict/caring teacher.”)
Although a hierarchy exists in schools, real change happens laterally–between teachers. In order to grow and to grow others, we need to learn the currency of communication. Crucial Conversations equips the reader with the mindset and the tactical skills to enter into a conversation with respect and purpose. Respect keeps the conversation going, but purpose will lead to actual change.
In 2015 celebrated travel writer and Public Broadcasting staple Rick Steves keynoted the Annual Conference of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) in San Diego. It turns out the man that I thought was simply a folksy, avuncular travel writer is actually a cuttingly deep thinker in matters of cultural literacy and global citizenship.
After breaking a few bones in my hand applauding his speech, I ran down to the conference bookstore and picked up a copy of his recently updated book Travel as a Political Act. In it, Steves lays out the case for the broadening of American perspective through global travel. He comes close to declaring an imperative.
Chief among his points is the fact that the collective fear we have around “the other,” which in today’s view takes on a very specific geographic/ethnic/religious context, keeps us at a distance from understanding important elements of history, economics, social justice, etc. This is the context that led him in his keynote to utter this rich idea:
The opposite of fear isn’t bravery; it’s understanding.
Staying within the context of teaching and learning, how can we apply this idea to our work, whether it be building relationships with colleagues, breaking ground on a new initiative, or executing the “last mile” of a strategic venture.
How would our perspective change if we considered resistance the product of a lack of understanding rather than cowardice or closed-mindedness?
How would this change our next interaction with a resistant faculty member?
This morning I’m finishing up Imagine: How Creativity Works by Johah Lehrer. After talking about the creative process, the neuroscience of creativity, the importance of divergence and convergence in the creative process, and the relationship between cities and creative behavior, he finishes by talking about Shakespeare. He argues that, yes, Shakespeare’s work exists “for all time” (quoting Ben Jonson). However, Shakespeare could have only produced what he produced by living in his own time, that the conditions were ripe for a Shakespeare. Then he mentions one of the conditions of creativity (freedom of speech) that made me wink directly at my book. After quoting a passage fromKing Lear, Lehrer writes:
These are the lines of a fearless writer. Shakespeare knew that even if his plays did manage to offend the queen’s censors, he probably wouldn’t be thrown into a dungeon…Instead, his punishment would be literary; he might be asked to revise the play in the next version, or cut the offending lines from the printed edition. This forgiving attitude encouraged playwrights to take creative risks…
Shakespeare was a beneficiary of formative assessment.