Blog: The Educated Reporter

Education Takes Flight: Required Reading at 35,000 Feet

I’ve noticed that few people seem to share my problem. Even on a midday flight, when you might assume people would be at their most alert, my seatmates drop off to dreamland within minutes of when the seatbelt sign goes “ding.”

There have been quite a few plane rides lately, to Los Angeles, St. Louis, Detroit, Indianapolis, Chicago, Las Vegas and Phoenix, to name just a handful. Now I’m off to Denver for a three-day EWA boot camp for journalists on using education research data in their reporting.

I like to use these trips to catch up on my reading. My New Year’s resolution in 2011 was to expand my library of the classics, and it’s one of the few such pledges I’ve been able to keep. I’ve recently finished “An American Tragedy” (Why did schools stop teaching Theodore Dreiser in literature class?) and “Tender Is the Night.” I know “The Great Gatsby” is on the short list for the Great American Novel, and I’m probably treading close to literary heresy, but I still think F. Scott Fitzgerald is overrated. You are free to disagree. I’m looking for suggestions of titles to tackle next, if you have a favorite.

But this is an education blog, so I would be remiss if I didn’t point to some of the related reading material that’s also stood out in the past few months. Here are a couple of ambitious stories that have made those long airborne minutes fly by:

Paul Tough’s examination of the question: What if the secret to success is failure? in the New York Times Magazine, questions the responsibility of educators to help students develop broader character traits rather than focus on more narrow academic goals.

As one of the story’s lead characters (the upstart headmaster of New York City’s prestigious Riverdale Country School) explains to Tough: “This push on tests … is missing out on some serious parts of what it means to be a successful human.”

Tough’s first book was the remarkable inside view of the Harlem Children’s Zone, and its founder Geoffrey Canada.  I’m looking forward to the September release of his new book ( “How Children Succeed: Rethinking Character and Intelligence”)  which tackles many of the themes covered in the magazine piece.

Ian Parker’s remarkable New Yorker piece examining of the suicide of Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, and the criminal charges against his roommate Dharun Ravi. Given that Ravi’s trial is underway in New Jersey, it’s particularly timely reading.

As Parker makes clear, many of the widely held perceptions of the story – including that Ravi “outed” Clementi after setting up a web cam to secretly watch him in an intimate encounter  – are not supported by the evidence. The truth, not surprisingly, is more complicated. Given that New Jersey changed its state laws related to school bullying in the wake of Clementi’s suicide and that many other states are considering similar legislation, it’s worth understanding more about this complicated story.


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