Tag Archives: suggestedbooks

Orange . . . Read the Book Too!

“The United States has the biggest prison population in the world – we incarcerate 25% of the world’s prisoners, though we’re only 5% of the world’s population. This reliance’s on prisons is recent: in 1980 we had some 500,000 Americans in prison; by 2010 we have more than 2,300,000 American people locked up. Yes, that’s close to 2 ½ million Americans now!”
Piper Kerman has written a great memoir of for 13 months in the Federal prison system. Many people know about her work because they’ve seen the TV show which was created as a result of this memoir. Yes, Piper Kerman wrote Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison.
I like the TV show AND the book. When I write “like” – it is the kind of appreciation that comes when I am made to think deeply about information and when I find myself caring about something which, previously I hadn’t given much thought to.  I also love good stories with characters that are authentic. Where people grow and evolve.  Where people are complex. All of that and more is happening in the book and the TV series.

If you are interested in learning more about our current American prison system – this book is a place to start. It is the story of one of those many million Americans who have spent or are spending time in prison. It is a story that let us into a world we don’t necessarily know much about. Yet, the world of prison life is huge in America. So, yes – this book and TV series gets us thinking about our country and how we operate.
Kerman sees clearly that “America has invested heavily in prisons, while the public institutions that actually prevent crime and strengthen communities – schools, hospitals, libraries, museums, community centers – go without.”  I see this too and  would add to the list the need for greater resources in responding compassionately and productively to homelessness and community and mental health across the country.

Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman 2010, 2011 is published by Random House and can be bought or checked out of libraries everywhere. The TV show is a NETFLIX original series (Orange is the New Black) is based on the work of Piper Kerman and season three is to begin in the summer of 2015. That gives you lots of time to read the book and catch up on season 1 and 2.
The complexity of the American prison system is important for all of us to think about.  Kerman asserts that we “Over incarceration in America destabilizes families and communities, making life outside the mainstream more likely by limiting opportunities for change. We have a racially biased justice system that over punishes, fails to rehabilitate, and doesn’t make us safer.”

The quotes above can be found on pages 303, 299 and 303 of the paperback of Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman


Be intentional about connecting – mind-to-mind

The complexity of today’s world is daunting. There are no simple responses to the issues of: education, health care, the economy, poverty or many of the other challenges we face.  We may want to believe that independent thinking is a how each of us should sort through the complexity.

Yet, I truly believe that we need to think together.  Interdependent thinking is not common. Moreover, the concept of truly weaving our thinking together with the thinking of others is challenging.  Thinking together is not simple or easy.  And, it is something we all can benefit from.

Laura Lipton and Bruce Wellman in their chapter – Creating Communities of Thought: Skills, Tasks, and Practices pages 62 & 63, found in The Power of the Social Brain by Costa and O’Leary, Teachers College Press, 2013 write: “Rich, meaningful collaboration is both complex and challenging.

Three compelling reasons for meeting these demands include:

1.    The lone genius is a myth.

Regardless of whether the field is physics, biology or linguistics, teams of researchers, not individuals, make scientific breakthroughs.  Significant studies are no longer produced by a lone genius like Einstein or Darwin.  In fact, papers with at least 100 citations, or “home-run” papers, are more than six times likely to come from teams of scientists. The group is the unit of work.  Insight and innovation emerge from interdependent thinking.

2.    The most interesting mysteries lie at the intersection of minds.

Novel solutions are necessary to address increasingly complex problems.  For example, the study of sustainable agriculture combines the fields of biology, agronomy, sociology, and climatology in a multidisciplinary response to world hunger. Overwhelming problems are too messy for individuals to solve independently.  The collective imagination is more expansive than any individual vision.  The cross-fertilization of divergent minds generates possibilities beyond the limits of isolated thinkers.

3.    Accountability grows out of co-creation.

Collective construction of understanding around data, problems, and plans inspires commitment to action.  A greater degree of participation in the genesis of decisions produces a greater likelihood of follow-through.  Given the challenges of multiple demands and conflicting priorities, individuals need to make choices about use of their time, attention, and energy.  When group membership is valued, the values of the group prevail.  Identity as a group member increases accountability to the group and the group’s goals.  Our goals become my goals.”

Maybe their thoughts can inspire others to: 1. bust the myth that “some genus is out there and will get us out of this”, 2. get good at contributing to the cross-fertilization of divergent thought to generate new possibilities, and 3. strive to “show up” and be part of and contribute to a collective construction of understanding.

Connecting Mind to Mind
Life is full of differences: different priorities, customs and thinking
Living and/or working together is full of challenges: We can think through them or not
Thinking interdependently means we invest in the idea that good can come from diversity of thought
We need to connect: mind-to-mind
Connecting mind-to-mind will serve the common good
Connecting mind-to-mind is not going to just happen
Connecting mind-to-mind requires developing new processes
We must be intentional about connecting – mind-to-mind
Poem by Jerry Jennings from The Power of the Social Brain, page xi, Teachers College Press (2013)

A Book I Contributed to on Interdependent Thinking

I have had the good fortune to both write the forward for this Teachers College Press book and contribute a chapter.

The Foreword focuses on the value of “thinking together”. The chapter I wrote is titled: “Creating and Influencing Momentum: The Challenges and Power of Adults Thinking Interdependently”.

Additionally, I work with Patricia Reeves with the Courageous Journey and she wrote a chapter on the Courageous Journey titled: “In The Company of School Leaders”.

The book is officially released soon. It can currently be ordered from Amazon.

Here is what a couple of reviewers have said: ”As the authors point out, as a society and in our institutions, we spend almost no time learning how to think, learn, and work together. Thinking with others is its own skill, and it is high time people thought about how to optimize this skill. This is exactly what this book seeks to do.” –Matthew D. Lieberman, Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry, and Bio-behavioral Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles

”A rare and relevant publication for all who care about a universally human enterprise.” — Robin Fogarty, author and education consultant, Robin Fogarty and Associates

And this is from the publisher:

‘Cooperative learning has been demonstrated by research to be one of the most highly effective teaching strategies, but simply putting students in a group is not enough. The authors of The Power of the Social Brain see “interdependent thinking” as the missing piece of the collaborative puzzle. This authoritative book provides research from the neurosciences and education along with practical strategies to help groups function more effectively and thoughtfully. By adding the “cognitive dimension” to cooperative learning, this book will help readers apply strategies of successful group work in classrooms and professional educational learning communities.’

Where Progress Comes From and How We Can Create More of It


As I read the introduction to Stephen Johnson’s new book, Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age, 2012 I find myself thinking about the interconnectedness of today’s outcomes to the work of many in the years past.

In the process of setting up his book, Johnson retells about the story of the Miracle on the Hudson which is the story of captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, who brilliantly navigated his plane in to the Hudson River with great poise under unthinkable pressure.

The point that Johnson makes is that “the plane survived because a dense network of human intelligence have built a plane designed to withstand it exactly this kind of failure. It was an individual triumph, to be sure, but it was also, crucially, a triumph of collectively shared ideas, corporate innovation, state-funded research, and government regulation.”

He goes on to write, “To ignore those elements in telling the story of the Miracle on the Hudson is not to neglect part of the narrative for dramatic effect.  It is to fundamentally misunderstand where progress comes from and how we can create more of it.”

I’m thinking about this because the work of education needs to be broad and deep. We must nurture interdependent thinking.  The world of technological innovation in science, industry, production and in education needs to also be broad and deep.

Progress doesn’t come from individual narrow and superficial work.

So, as we in schools think about what role technology should play in are classrooms and curriculums – we all will be well served, to also think broadly and deeply.  We will also be correct to help students to learn and practice to work collaboratively and interdependently.  Because, there will be many more miracles like the one on the Hudson which can and will only happen because of all of the learning and thinking that transpired well before the miracle occurred.

Here are more details that Johnson shared about the work that went on many years prior to this event that allowed the captain to land the plane in the Hudson.

“The phrase lucky break – like the whole promise of the miracle on the Hudson – distorts the true circumstances of the U.S. Airways landing. We need to better phrase, something that conveys the idea of an event that seems lucky, but actually resulted from years of deliberate preparation and planning. This was not a stroke of good fortune.  It was a stroke of good foresight.

The any attempt to explain that the confluence of events that came together to allow all flight 1549 to land safely in the Hudson has to begin with the chicken gun.

The threat posed by and bird-impact strikes to aircraft dates back to the very beginning of flight.  The primary vulnerability in a modern commercial jet lies in birds being ingested by the jet engine and, wreaking enough internal damage that the engine itself fails. The engine can simply flame out or it can shatter, sending debris back into the fuselage potentially destroying the plane in a matter of seconds.

Today’s jet engines are there for rigorously tested to ensure that they can withstand significant bird impact without catastrophic failure. At Arnold Air Force Base in Tennessee, a team of scientists and engineers use high pressure helium gas to launch chicken carcasses at high velocity into spinning jet engines. Every make of engine that powers a commercial jet aircraft in the United States has passed the chicken gun test.

The chicken gun, it should be noted, is an exemplary case of governmental regulation. Those dead birds been shot out of the pneumatic cannon are Your Tax Dollars at Work.  For the passengers flying on U.S. Airways 1549, those tax dollars turned out to be very well spent.

In fact, the advance planning of the chicken gun was so effective that the jet core of the left engines continued to spin at near maximum speed  – not enough to grant Sullenberger the thrust needed to return to LaGuardia, but enough so that the planes electronics and hydraulic systems functioned for the duration of the flight.

The persistence of the electronics system, In turn, set up a flight 1549’s second stroke of foresight: the planes legendary fly-by-wire system remained online Sullenberger steered his wounded craft toward the river.

The history of the fly-by-wire dates back to 1972, when a modified F -8 Crusader took off from the Dryden Flight Research Center on the edge of the Mojave Desert.  The brainchild of NASA engineers, the fly-by-wire system used digital computers and other modern electronic systems to relay control information from the pilot to the plane.  Because computers were involved, it became easier to provide assistance to the pilot in real time, even if the autopilot was disengaged, preventing stalls, or stabilizing the plane during turbulence.

So when Sullenberger was at the controls and collided with a flock of Canadian geese his left engine was still able to keep the electronics running.  His courageous descent into the Hudson was deftly assisted by a silent partner:  a computer embodied with the collective intelligence of years of research and planning. This means that Sullenberger was in command of the aircraft as he steered it toward the Hudson, but the fly-by-wire system was silently working alongside him throughout, setting the boundaries or optimal targets for his actions.

The extraordinary landing was a kind of a duet between a single human being at the helm of the aircraft and the embedded knowledge of the thousands of human beings that had collaborated over the years to build the fly-by-wire technology.   Pages xvii to xx of the Introduction to Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age by Steven Johnson

How did testing and accountability become the main levers of school reform? ~ Diane Ravitch


We all need to stop and think deeply about what we want for all children.

I am convinced that the ‘easy answer’ of letting narrow products, “tests”, measure the value of schools to our society is foolhardy!  Further, I am convinced that our society needs to be investing in ways to improve education for all children.

Think about this: If you want to help children who are under weight and hungry – you don’t go out and focus on buying scales! 

National Book Award for Nonfiction Goes to Katherine Boo


Katherine Boo in East Lansing August 2012

Winner, Katherine Boo, the first-time author of Behind the Beautiful Forevers has written a captivating book.  It is a book about real people in the slums of Mumbai, India.  It reads like a novel and it is reveals the life paths of many individuals in a setting unfamiliar to most of us.

I highly recommend the book!

I had the good fortune to visit India earlier in 2012. The complexity of the challenges of the country became clear to me from my visit.  Then, coming back and reading this book amplifies my understanding of the complexity and humanity of the country.

Polymic reports, “Boo, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter currently writing for the New Yorker, takes readers of The Beautiful Forevers inside a Mumbai slum for a story of a boy and the harsh and illuminating after effects of crime — or perceived crime. More broadly, it explores themes of inequality and the perseverance of families striving for something better. In her acceptance, Boo praised Shadid, who she described as also believing in the ideal that stories can be used to give voice to those without it.”

This website will take you to three NPR stories on Katherine Boo and the book Behind the Beautiful Forevers. http://www.northcountrypublicradio.org/news/nprnews.php?id[146346989]=Katherine%20Boo

The following four blog posts are ones I have posted related to India.