Published Online: March 11, 2008
Published in Print: March 12, 2008, as New in Print

Book Review

New in Print

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Learning to Be Human

Why Our Schools Need the Arts

by Jessica Hoffmann Davis (Teachers College Press,; 160 pp., $21.95 paperback).

“The arts must be featured in our schools so that we can have more artists among us producing works for museums, theaters, concert halls, and the media writ large. But they must also be featured so that we can have more artists among us guiding national policy, running businesses, breaking boundaries in science, medicine, education, and technology. As parents, students, teachers, administrators, community leaders, and policymakers, we need to advocate for the realization of such human potential.”

How ridiculous would it be, asks Jessica Hoffmann Davis, the founder of the Arts in Education Program at Harvard University’s graduate school of education, for educators and parents to rationalize the teaching of mathematics by the improvement it could bring to children’s drawings? And yet, she asserts, that is precisely the style of argument used almost ubiquitously to promote the arts in schools. She contends that such justification is counterproductive, because it implies that the arts can be dispensed with if other instruction is boosted. And while she acknowledges that music, painting, and dance can assist students in understanding other subjects, she holds that to protect arts education, we must defend it by what it teaches that no other course can. In her book Why Our Schools Need the Arts, a self-termed “manifesto,” Davis describes these unique lessons, arguing at base that the arts impart “what it is to be human.” She also addresses common objections to arts programs, such as the time, money, or expertise they might require, and tutors arts advocates on effective lobbying. Given the arts’ importance, she writes, perhaps putting them foremost is not so ridiculous after all.


A 12-Step Program for the Mind

Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

by John Medina (Pear Press,; 320 pp., $29.95 hardback including DVD).

Since the federal No Child Left Behind Act became law six years ago, “scientifically based research” has gained particular prominence as a potential tool for improving education. But according to John Medina, a molecular biologist and the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University, the most reputable brain research reveals a disquieting finding for teachers: “If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom,” he writes in his book Brain Rules. To explain why this is so, and to propose alternatives to the traditional schooling model, he distills findings from biology, psychology, and neuroscience into 12 brain-focused principles that, he stresses, are less a prescription for action than a call for further study. He proposes, among other ideas, that researchers consider whether holding recess twice daily could offer significant academic benefits, if teaching lessons cyclically could make homework unnecessary, and if matching students to teachers should be based in part on individuals’ sleep schedules. Written for a general audience, the book also examines learning and productivity beyond school, such as in the workplace and among the elderly. Medina’s rules, each explored in its own chapter, are as follows:

EXERCISE Rule #1: Exercise boosts brain power.

SURVIVAL Rule #2: The human brain evolved, too.

WIRING Rule #3: Every brain is wired differently.

ATTENTION Rule #4: We don’t pay attention to boring things.

SHORT-TERM MEMORY Rule #5: Repeat to remember.

LONG-TERM MEMORY Rule #6: Remember to repeat.

SLEEP Rule #7: Sleep well, think well.

STRESS Rule #8: Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.

SENSORY INTEGRATION Rule #9: Stimulate more of the senses.

VISION Rule #10: Vision trumps all other senses.

GENDER Rule #11: Male and female brains are different.

EXPLORATION Rule #12: We are powerful and natural explorers.


The Jossey-Bass Reader on the Brain and Learning

edited by Jossey-Bass Publishers (Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley,; 480 pp., $32 paperback).

An anthology of writings by scholars including Ann L. Brown, Elliot W. Eisner, Howard Gardner, Sally Shaywitz, and Robert J. Sternberg.


Learning a New Land: Immigrant Students in American Society

by Carola Suárez-Orozco, Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, & Irina Todorova (Harvard University Press,; 440 pp., $29.95 hardback).

How such children and their schools adapt—or don’t—to one another.

Managing Diverse Classrooms: How to Build on Students’ Cultural Strengths

by Carrie Rothstein-Fisch & Elise Trumbull (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development,; 200 pp., $25.95 paperback).

Bridging the gap between American “individualistic” and immigrant “collectivistic” ways of thinking.


Building a 21st Century U.S. Education System

edited by Bob Wehling (National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future,; 204 pp., free download).

Leading education thinkers such as David W. Hornbeck, Richard W. Riley, Diane Ravitch, and Linda Darling-Hammond offer their visions.

What Teachers Expect in Reform: Making Their Voices Heard

by Penny Ann Armstrong (Rowman & Littlefield Education,; 166 pp., $24.95 paperback).

Three hundred educators speak out about federal policies in a series of interviews.


ADHD & Me: What I Learned From Lighting Fires at the Dinner Table

by Blake E.S. Taylor (New Harbinger,; 192 pp., $14.95 paperback).

Advice from a teenager on going through life and school with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Embracing Autism: Connecting and Communicating With Children in the Autism Spectrum

edited by Robert Parish (Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley,; 208 pp., $24.95 hardback).

Parents and teachers of children with autism share their strategies.

The Game of My Life: A True Story of Challenge, Triumph, and Growing Up Autistic

by Jason “J-Mac” McElwain with Daniel Paisner (NAL, an imprint of Penguin,; 256 pp., $23.95 hardback).

From the 2006 high school senior whose basketball feat made him a national media sensation.


More Than a Dream: The Cristo Rey Story: How One School’s Vision Is Changing the World

by G.R. Kearney (Loyola Press,; 406 pp., $22.95 hardback).

Jesuits in Chicago launch an urban school network with an unusual work-study model.

Spectacular Things Happen Along the Way: Lessons From an Urban Classroom

by Brian D. Schultz (Teachers College Press,; 192 pp., $19.95 paperback).

A 5th grade class campaigns for the replacement of its derelict Chicago school.

Urban Dreams: Stories of Hope, Resilience, and Character

edited by Maurice J. Elias, Gina Ogburn-Thompson, Claudine Lewis, & Deborah I. Neft (Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield,; 130 pp., $20 paperback).

Students from the New Jersey city of Plainfield write about their “laws of life.”

Vol. 27, Issue 27, Pages 28-29

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