Friday, August 13, 2021

Mixing in Some Nonfiction

I know my reading choices throw the algorithms of all those sites trying to sell me books. I'm amused that because I bought a particular textbook (Surpassing Shanghai), I am suddenly inundated by books and articles related to education in China--a month after the course ended. Of course, six years later, Pinterest is still sending me moving tips (No thank you!). I don't need their suggestions for rehearsal dinners either.

Even when the book suggestions align with my reading tastes, they come along too late. I read through saying, "Yep! I've read that one...and that one....."

All summer, I've worked some nonfiction into my fiction mix. After the aforementioned course (Comparative International Education), I re-read With Rigor for All by Carol Jago (from Heinemann Publishers). It is the best kind of publication aimed at educators: one that can immediately put to use in the classroom. I have long known Carol from all the years I attended the annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English. She writes based on her experience "in the trenches," teaching high school English. By the way, she is also  a voracious reader whose lists I seek out. In this book, one of the main points is that when schools teach challenging literature only to the "top students," while others are assigned books they can easily read on their own, the gap gets wider. Rather than stopping with a theoretical claim, she shares strategies for guiding all students through these texts.

Another favorite book I've discovered this summer is Electric City by Thomas Hager. The main story, set near my North Alabama home, is one with which I have been long familiar: Henry Ford's failed plans to build a 75-mile city along the Tennessee River, where agriculture and manufacturing would coexist in a way to benefit the many workers who would be employed in this "new Detroit." Hagar discovered the story and found an appreciation for the people of the Muscle Shoals area during a visit where he discussed a book he had written about fertilizer. (No, I haven't read that one.) His interest was piqued and he completed the research for this fascinating book.

Another book I've recommended both to other educators and to parents of school-age children is The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley. Interested in the P.I.S.A. results that show American students scoring far below nations with school systems as diverse as Norway and South Korea, the author visited American exchange students integrated into some of these other systems. The section of the book I found particularly interesting was the appendix, where Ripley explains how to recognize a first-class school. (Hint: watch the students, not the teachers.)

If you checked in for some fiction recommendations, hang on. I'll have those soon too.