Summer Reading. Institute Style
The New York Times, The Atlantic and Longmire Mysteries
My summer reading (in between classical music concerts at the Brevard Music Center with my wife Dr. Betsy Barefoot) consists of:
Daily devouring of The New York Times
The latest issue of The Atlantic Magazine
Working my way through the entire series of the Longmire Mysteries 13 volumes by Craig Johnson!
Slavery in Small Things Slavery and Modern Cultural Habits, by James Walvin
In his book, Slavery in Small Things: Slavery and Modern Cultural Habits, James Walvin chronicles how London, Bristol, Glasgow, Liverpool, and other 18th and 19th century British cities thrived on slave commerce. This commerce took many forms. It was found in the transportation of enslaved Africans to the Americas. It was also evident in the distribution of slave-produced goods such as tobacco, sugar, cocoa, coffee, tea, and mahogany. And it manifested itself in creation of whole industries that were tightly connected to slave-produced goods such as porcelain (for sugar bowls and tea sets), pipes (for tobacco), coffee houses, and exquisite furnishings (made from mahogany). In short, the British Isles and European mainland were inextricably linked with slavery. However, unlike the American continent, where, as Walvin notes, “the modern American state came into being in 1787 arguing about slavery” (Walvin, 2017, p. 3), slavery by and large remained out of sight in Britain and Europe, even if it “had become part of the warp and weft of British commercial and social life” (p. 4). The book has been a fascinating read. It has me thinking about how, in the contemporary era, the legacy of slavery is still manifesting itself in many “small things” that add up in big ways in the United States. In fact, I am drawing on these exact thoughts to help frame a chapter in a forthcoming book on gateway courses – since, sadly, as I’ve shown in previous scholarship, race is one of the most significant factors in predicting who does or does not succeed in gateway courses in college.
Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, by Zaretta Hammond
Florida International University
This summer, I'm reading Zaretta Hammond's Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. In it, she describes a four-part framework for teaching in culturally responsive ways, one that combines the research on cognition with that on culture and inclusion, and - importantly - offers practical guidance for those of us wanting to engage in this critical work. Hammond argues convincingly that culturally responsive teaching is “one of our most powerful tools for helping students find their way out of the [achievement] gap.” The four categories of the Ready for Rigor Framework are awareness, learning partnerships, information processing, and community of learners. I've been meaning to read it for quite some time now, so I signed up to facilitate a faculty book group this summer and had the pleasure of discussing it with extremely thoughtful faculty colleagues, mostly from STEM fields. Since Hammond’s examples and anecdotes are from the K-12 sector, some of our discussions focused on identifying what’s relevant to our contexts and how we might adapt some of the strategies. One of the features I most appreciate about Hammond’s book is her explicitness, as I find that some authors are so careful with their language when discussing matters of race and inclusion that their insights become muddled. Here’s an example from the awareness category of her framework, one that I consider the key element of culturally responsive teaching: “Every culturally responsive teacher develops a socio-political consciousness, an understanding that we live in a racialized society that gives us unearned privilege to some while others experience unearned disadvantage because of race, gender, class, or language.”
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World – and Why Things are Always Better Than You Think, by Hans Rosling
Rosling talks about using data and visualizations based on facts from the World Bank and United Nations and describes ways to use a “fact-based framework” to view and reason about the world. Overall, it is a story about how the world is getting better despite what you may always hear or the “negativity instinct.” Hans discusses this negativity instinct and 9 more instincts in relation to modern data that supports the instincts (or not).
Educated, by Tara Westover
Northern Arizona University
I'm reading Tara Westover’s Educated. I tend not to risk reading anything that’s fiction unless it’s recommended or I already am familiar with the author. Educated was highly recommended by colleagues and was the NY Time’s May book club choice. So, as the dust has literally and figuratively settled after my very hectic June (moved, got married, taught 2 courses, blah, blah, blah), I was being really picky about what to choose for my precious quiet time. Fiction is a treat and I maxed out on professional development books about pedagogy last Spring. I am also transitioning to the role of part-time associate dean in our College of Education right now. So, the story of an individual who never stepped foot in a classroom was particularly intriguing. With all of the recent protests and changes to public education, the idea of reading about someone who was denied a K-12 formal education really caught my attention. I’m only a short-ways in but the book is great thus far!
IQ, by Joe Ide
IQ is a smart and quirky detective novel, the first by author Joe Ide. The main character, Isaiah Quintabe (aka IQ), is a brilliant orphan who is trying to make a life for himself in a crime-soaked part of Long Beach, California. IQ is a charming but imperfect protagonist -- reviewers often compare him to Sherlock Holmes. However, IQ lives in a very different world than Sherlock, and in many ways, IQ is a more likable person than that other super smart detective. At the start of the book, IQ is trying to mind his own business and make his corner of the world a somewhat better place, although he has some unresolved issues from his past that keeps, him up at night. The story moves quickly, and the writing is compelling -- funny and profane. The characters and the story are memorable. This is not the most profound book you’ll read this summer, but it might be the most enjoyable.
Calypso, by David Sedaris
“Calypso” by David Sedaris. Anyone who has read Sedaris knows that occasionally he says outrageous, scatological things, but if a reader can get over that, overall this book is really sweet – it’s about his aging father, his sister who committed suicide, his other sisters who are famous in their own right and his partner Hugh. I loved it – it’s a story about a family – a strange family but one in which there is a lot of love.
Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
University of Rhode Island
In this multi-generational story, Ghanaian-American author Yaa Gyasi documents the lived experiences of the offspring of two half-sisters. One sister married a village 'big man' in the Ashanti kingdom, was captured and sold into the Transatlantic slave trade, and the other married a British officer and lived in the slave castle in Cape Coast, Ghana. Each chapter is a vivid description of life in either 18th century Ghana or generations of slavery, through reconstruction in America. Though this is a work of fiction, each generational depiction is factually accurate, both in her construction of the social contexts, and the specific ways in which social inequities were handed down to subsequent generations. This unintentional handing down of disadvantage is what makes this work so powerful. By the end, one certainly senses that engaging in this writing may have been cathartic for the author. Certainly, her work shines a new light on how one might think of 'generations of blackness', not just in America or Africa, but anywhere chattel slavery caused its spread and permanence.
Flat Broke With Two Goats, a Memoir by Jennifer McCana
Sara Stein Koch
Flat Broke With Two Goats is the memoir of a local (Asheville area) well-educated woman and her life of bad financial decisions. What I liked about the book was both its honesty and how it left the reader slapping her head saying “really?!”. For any Asheville or Brevard native, there are numerous references to places that you’ll recognize.
The Road from Coorain, by Jill Ker Conway
University of Baltimore
I just finished reading The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway the first woman to serve as Smiths College President. I recall that Roberta told me she was at her recent college reunion.
Jill died this June, and I was inspired to learn more about her after reading her obituary. The Road from Coorain is a beautifully written memoir of growing up in the wilds of Australia. I was touched by her story and the influences on her by her parents -especially her mother who in her own way was a woman well ahead of her time but limited by circumstances.
Jill -even as a child- navigated complicated family dynamics and managed to emerge as a brilliant scholar, leader, and humanitarian.
Loved this book and wish, as Roberta did, I could have met this wonderful person.
Eunice, the Kennedy who Changed the World, by Eileen McNamara
I recently heard an interview with Maria Shriver, Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s daughter and it drove me to want to learn more about her mother. I read Eunice: The Kennedy Who Changed the World. While Eunice’s brothers were groomed to be politicians and leaders of the free world, Eunice, smart and Stanford educated created her own opportunities. She was driven by a desire for equality, passionate about advocating for individuals with disabilities, and unwilling to be hampered by familial or societal views of the role of women in the political stage. Eunice started the Special Olympics, McNamara illustrates her impact is far-reaching and more impactful than any of her siblings.
Eileen McNamara’s biography is both intimate, and comprehensive. She portrays Eunice as a mother, a devoted Catholic, and the formidable woman whose impact is far-reaching. A great read and a book to share with your daughters.
Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning, by James M. Lang
When looking for readings that offer accessible, small and impactful approaches that are based in the cognitive sciences, this is one of the most frequently recommended books today. While not a learning scientist (his discipline is English), Lang has offered a very easy to read compilation of learning activities that can be easily introduced in the classroom. His approach to curricular transformation is an evolutionary one (one small change at a time that can cumulatively lead to meaningful outcomes). Not all curricular changes have to be BIG to achieve significant results. He backs his approaches with a lay understanding of the science and the pedagogy. His chapters cover both learning factual information and the development of cognitive skills (reading, writing, problem-solving), as well as developing a mastery orientation. Highly recommended. I couldn't stop at just one so I am also recommending 84K by Claire North
84K, by Claire North
It is hard to recommend such a dark, dystopian novel for summer reading, but perhaps, it takes a bright summers’ day to work through Claire North’s vision of a not distant future England, where every life has a monetary value and crimes are punished by fines according to the value of the person and the nature of the offense. You enter this world through the life of a man (sometimes) called Theo Miller, who has spent his entire adult life creating the most inoffensive “jedermann” persona possible. His careful and joyless balancing act is disrupted when he learns that he may have fathered a child, now a teenager lost in the system. Crossing several timelines, this novel explores the uncovering of the man under the persona, as he seeks the one thing that may give meaning to his life. North's vision of this near future, wholly owned by the Company, rings uncomfortably close to some contemporary currents.
Taming Wildflowers, by Miriam Goldberger
This book is a wonderful resource for learning more about the importance and benefits of incorporating native plants into your landscape. Despite its small size, it is rich with detail regardless of the region in which you live. It’s a “keeper” in my gardener’s library!