Parenting and Education
This year's Parents' Association Executive Committee participated in its first annual retreat last fall, organized and facilitated by James Calleroz White. Out of that great bonding event came a conversation about books on parenting and education. We were each tasked with the mission of reading a different book and writing a brief review/recommendation. These are what follow.
Each month, a book will be read, reviewed, and shared with the school community. If you have read a book that you think would be a useful resource to others in our community, please include the title, author, a short summary, and what you found useful about the book and email it to James Calleroz White at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee
reviewed by Ida Mattinson
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee is a great resource for parents who want to raise well-behaved, respectful, and self-reliant kids. The book shows parents how to teach their children to honor them as parents and to be respectful of others. It also cautions parents against overindulging, overprotecting and over-scheduling their kids. The author uses the teachings of Judaism as a basis for her book, but the issues she raises are applicable to parents of any religion. She uses the framework of nine blessings to address the issues faced by parents of today, for example,
- The Blessing of Acceptance: Discovering Your Unique and Ordinary child
- The Blessing of Having Someone to Look up to: Honoring Father and Mother
- The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Why God Doesn't Want You to Overprotect Your Child
Although my family is not Jewish, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, as it gave me new insights and guidelines on how to raise my boys. In the chapter which discusses the Blessing of Acceptance, Mogel shows parents how their desire for perfection oftentimes leads them to make unreasonable demands on their children. The author postulates that if parents love their children for their own sake rather than for their achievements, they will more likely reach their full potential. My favorite chapter in the book is The Blessing of a Skinned Knee; Why God Doesn’t Want You to Overprotect Your Child. This chapter warns about the dangers of overprotecting children, and it spoke directly to my type of parenting. I am a worrier and somewhat overprotective of my kids, and this chapter made me more aware of that. Parents need to give children a chance to suffer the consequences of their choices in order for them to grow into resilient, self-reliant adults.
This book lets you revisit and reexamine the dynamics of your family life and gives you guidelines for more effective parenting.
The Pressured Child
reviewed by Lucy Marshall
I looked forward to reading this book thinking it would discuss the need for children to have more free time, think creatively, and feel less pressured to perform for adults. I thought it would advocate a less regimented life, both in and out of school, and quote scientific studies supporting this idea. Instead, The Pressured Child addresses a much more basic and radical need of our children: to have parents, teachers, and other involved adults trust each and every child to do what is best for himself.
This book focuses on a wide variety of children in middle and high school, from academic high-achievers to dropouts, learning disabled to those having overriding outside interests. Family backgrounds range from stable and affluent to orphans. The author tells the “school story” of many of these children, attempting to get the reader to see what school truly is like for each of these kids and to remember his own personal story of school. The overriding theme of these stories is that the child is making the best decisions that he can make at that time. He stresses that all children want to feel successful and useful.
I recommend this book as an antidote to worrying about our children and their futures. The discussion reminds us all that it is easy to overlook our goal of raising a “self-sufficient young adult who blossoms into a productive, moral citizen.”
Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys
Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson
reviewed by Molly DeFilippis
Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson have over 35 years of experience working with boys and their families. Their expertise shines through in this compelling book where they set out to answer basic question, “What do boys need that they’re not getting?” The authors challenge such outdated theories as “mother blame,” “boy biology,” and “testosterone” and instead focus on the destructive emotional training boys receive—the emotional mis-education of boys. The reader learns that emotional literacy is the most valuable gift we can offer boys. When society does not support or recognize boys’ social and emotional challenges, boys are held to an impossible standard of manhood, which can result in lifelong negative and destructive behavior.
This book was fascinating and educational for me—particularly because I have a seven-year-old son. It not only provokes the reader to think about one’s own son, but also the other men in your life (husband, father, brother) and their childhood, relationships with others, and how these affect who they are today.
I believe that every parent and educator should read this book, as it talks in depth about the difference in raising and teaching boys vs. girls. For example, the importance of a boy’s need for physical activity during the day in order to better focus at home and in the classroom. I was interested in learning what boys need in order to become emotionally whole men and what the cost is to boys of a culture that suppresses their emotional life in service to rigid ideals of manhood. The author’s advice was quite simple—although complex in nature—“to simply understand boys as they truly are, rather than as they appear or as we wish them to be.”
The Price of Privilege
reviewed by Anne Thoits
Levine says that over-involved parents who pressure their children to be stars—in school, on athletic fields, among their peers—have created a generation that is extremely unhappy, disconnected, and passive. Unabashedly materialistic and disinterested in the wider world, they are both bored and “often boring,” she writes. Numerous studies show privileged adolescents are experiencing epidemic rates of depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse —rates that are higher than those of any other socioeconomic group of young people in this country. The various elements of a perfect storm—materialism, pressure to achieve, perfectionism, and disconnection—are combining to create a crisis in America’s culture of affluence. While many privileged kids project confidence and know how to make a good impression, alarming numbers lack the foundation of psychological development: an authentic sense of self.
As I read the book I thought of examples of these issues in my own life, as a mother, as a daughter, and within our PCDS community. It seems as though there is a pervasive lack of trust in our culture. There has been a real ratcheting up of materialism, as opposed to making connections with people. Levine writes: Busy schedules and preoccupation with material things interfere with those factors that are known to increase quality of life: friendships, spirituality, and community involvement.”
The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America
reviewed by James Calleroz White
If you want a candid, insightful, and well-documented view of what public education looks like for those most disenfranchised in the United States, then pick up this book. Kozol is a master educator, teacher, and writer. He does what most researchers do not do, and that is to spend large quantities of time actually in the schools that he writes about, in the living rooms with the students and parents that color his book, and in the boardrooms and glitzy offices where most of the rules, laws, and standards are made that directly impact the students, teachers, and families in these schools. In this book, which is a sequel to his earlier Savage Inequalities, Kozol again reports what he sees and hears in gripping detail, while giving the reader a history lesson about how and why public education has ended up the way it is—segregated and unequal. Kozol examines the No Child Left Behind law and intimately looks at how it is played out in public education. Kozol also addresses the disparity in funding that occurs across the country for public schooling and how standardized testing has done more harm to public education than good. Kozol plays no favorites in his books and calls out teachers, administrators, parents, and politicians alike in his condemnation of how we got to where we are. A must read for anyone who truly wants to get a real sense of the disparities in public education that exist in this country.
As an educator working in a private school or as a parent with children in a private school, I think it is essential to understand the public school side of the educational spectrum. Not all public schools will look and feel like the ones that Kozol visits, but the numbers do not lie, in that more students attend these types of public schools than any other kind of school. Having worked in and with schools that do resemble the ones that Kozol writes about and having mentored and taught students like the ones Kozol highlights in his book, I have a unique perspective on and a special appreciation for Kozol's books. Regardless of your politics, world experience, religious background, race, ethnicity, age, gender, preconceived notions, or firmly held beliefs, as a reader of this book, you will walk away emotionally charged—what emotion will of course be left up to you.
The Wonder of Boys: What Parents, Mentors and Educators can do to Shape Boys into Exceptional Men
reviewed by Michelle Hosmar
In this thought-provoking book, therapist and educator Michael Gurian takes a detailed look into modern boyhood.
The first section of the book acknowledges the vast biological and neurological differences between boys and girls, emphasizing that boys’ brains are wired differently from girls’. Outlining specific differences, Gurian states that boys are “hard-wired” to possess certain traits, for example, risk taking, physical aggression, and competitiveness. How we learn to understand these differences, and teach in a meaningful way within them, is critical to raising boys to become compassionate, responsible men.
Throughout the book, the author focuses on the necessity of teaching boys and girls differently—at home, at school, and within the community. Topics discussed in detail are the importance of family, teaching appropriate discipline, values, morality, and spirituality. Through research and thoughtful examples, Gurian pleads the case that parents, educators, and communities must unite to channel the unique traits of boys in a positive direction.
The Overachievers: The Secret Lives of Driven Kids
reviewed by Kathy Hitchcock
Alexandra Robbins, a journalist, returns to her high school to follow several students as they journey through the world of fierce competition to be the best. It is a funny and moving investigation of what it is like to be a high school kid growing up in a culture of overachievers and how it has altered what it means to be a student. It examines who and what drive a kid to be an overachiever; challenges our educational system; and strongly suggests that there is a need for change.
The admission frenzy is in full swing in our house. Reading this book helped me to better understand the pressure our kids are experiencing and why. I enjoyed reading this book. I would encourage all Upper School parents to read it.
Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning
reviewed by Priscilla Moore
The author’s thesis is that the term fascism has been long associated with right wing conservative thinking; however, fascism actually has its roots in the likes of Mussolini who created National Socialism and was a darling of liberals in the United States. His formula was the ultimate product of left-wing thinking—though leaving the State in place, unlike Karl Marx. The author proceeds to back his thesis with extraordinarily thorough research and some humor. In his analysis of the kinder, gentler fascism common in the United Sates (thus the smiley face with the Hitlerian mustache found on the cover), he includes the administrations of Woodrow Wilson, FDR and his New Deal, Kennedy, and Johnson. He also probes populist movements such as those experienced in the 1960s. Finally he shows us the fascist tendencies present in the green movement, the educational system, and the universal healthcare movement of today.
“This book will present an alternative history of American liberalism that not only reveals its roots in, and commonalities with, classical fascism, but also shows how the fascist label was projected onto the right by a complex sleight of hand. In fact, conservatives are the more authentic classical liberals, while many so-called liberals are ‘friendly’ fascists.”
This book is a must-read for any parent, educator, or citizen to help them understand the intellectual tradition that has led us to our current modes of thought today. Before you have completed the 50th page, it will make you pause and think about the left vs. right argument in a new way. This book provides an important historical perspective that may help us prevent repeating past mistakes.
The Art of Racing in the Rain
reviewed by Ellen Brown
This story is told in the first person—from the perspective of a dog, Enzo. He is the devoted pet in a family of three humans; Denny, the father, who is a mechanic in an auto shop and a racecar driver; Eve, Denny’s wife, who is dying of cancer; Zoe, the young daughter. On the surface, the reader learns of the dog’s education, largely occurring via television viewing (the Weather Channel, Sesame Street, and the National Geographic Channel), as well as watching racing videos with Denny. The reader discovers the professional sacrifices that Denny has made for his family, learns of Eve’s illness and subsequent death, and hears of Denny’s custody battle for his child.
There is much more to this book, however, than the mere story line. Enzo is deeply philosophical, in a dog-like way, and manages to translate what he learns about successful racecar driving into a philosophy that he applies to living his doggy life and facing his doggy death. He provides great comfort to all three family members, subverts his own desires in order to do the right thing for others, assists Denny in creating his own destiny, and reminds Denny not to give up, but rather to be a champion and overcome the obstacles with which he is faced.
This novel is an easy and endearing read. As a dog lover and owner, I love Enzo as a character. After all, what is not to like; his utter devotion to his owners; his understanding of everything he hears humans say; his list of favorite human movie actors (topped with Steve McQueen and Al Pacino); his obsession with thumbs (and his lack of them); and his doggy thoughts about his owner.
Enzo’s devotion to his friends made me contemplate my relationships with friends and family. His conviction that he can assist Denny and Zoe with important life changes and his self-sacrifice in his effort to do the best for them are admirable. He is truly a lifelong learner, learning from television and racing videos, from those talking in his presence, and from his every personal experience. I hope to do a better job of enjoying the moment, as Enzo and my dog Mojo do, and to continue my life-long education and the application of lessons learned. This book makes me wonder whether Mojo may, in fact, understand every word I say, and that his cocked head and quizzical look are all an act!
These is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine
reviewed by Jan Bohannon
Nancy Turner is a local author and this is her first book. Although it is a novel, it spans the years 1881-1901 and was based on her great-grandmother’s actual diary, describing her life in the Arizona Territories. Sarah is the daughter of a horse ranger and does not have the opportunity to attend school. Despite the daily challenge to survive in a brutal environment, she thirsts for knowledge, and her true passion in life is to become educated. She accomplishes this through a “treasure chest” of books left behind in a deserted wagon.
I chose to reread this book, as it is one of my favorites. The book is funny, sad, painfully honest, and hard to put down. Her devotion to her family and desire to escape “ignorance” are an inspiration to all who read this incredible book.
reviewed by Jacqui Firestone
This is a story about a teenager and the trials and tribulations of high school. Our leading lady, Lee Fiora, is plucked from Indiana and lands (not necessarily on her feet) at a prestigious boarding school near Boston. Raised in a typical middle class home, she finds herself not only having to deal with the everyday angst associated with high school, but also feeling that she is very much a fish out of water.
The author tells the story retrospectively and shares some interesting insights into the world of boarding schools. As a woman in her late 20s, she reflects sympathetically upon her younger self and is graciously understanding of her shortcomings. These include her inability to communicate and connect with others, and at times, an irritating, almost self-indulgent propensity towards low self-esteem. There are moments when one wants to strangle her for being helpless and overly analytical. But, at the same time, one can’t help but enjoy her tenderness, humor and, more significantly, her candor, in situations most people would choose to forget. Sex, race, class, cheating, and suicide are some of the many issues covered in the book. The reader enjoys not so much a rollercoaster ride through Fiora’s high school years, but more of a meandering river tubing experience. In other words… plenty passing by, but time to observe and enjoy.