Published Online: August 11, 2008
Published in Print: August 13, 2008, as New in Print

Book Review

New in Print

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Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age

by Maggie Jackson (Prometheus,; 327 pp., $25.95 hardback).

According to Maggie Jackson, the author of Distracted and a journalist who writes on work-life balance, modern society suffers from a collective case of attention deficit disorder. The electronic tools that bring us a wealth of information at ever-increasing speeds have, by their unceasing interruptions, shattered our concentration to a degree that we rarely think meaningfully on what we learn. The problem is so pronounced, she warns, that despite such advances, we may be entering a new era of cultural regression. Jackson does not advocate renouncing technology, but instead recommends training, beginning in childhood, in “attention skills” such as self-control, focus, and perception. Benefiting teachers may well agree with her contention that “perhaps attention is the true missing key to better learning.” The following is an excerpt from the book:

"Kids are the inveterate multitaskers, the technologically fluent new breed that is better suited for the lightning-paced, many-threaded digital world, right? After all, they are bathed in an average of nearly six hours a day of nonprint media content, and a quarter of that time they are using more than one screen, dial, or channel. Nearly a third of 14- to 21-year-olds juggle five to eight media while doing homework. Yet ... studies show that many U.S. high school students can’t synthesize or assess information, express complex thoughts, or analyze arguments. In other words, they often lack the critical thinking skills that are the bedrock of an informed citizenry and the foundation of scientific and other advancements. Is it just a coincidence that they lack the skills nurtured by the brain’s executive attention network, the seat of our highest-level powers of focus?

“While undoubtedly the reasons for this state of affairs are myriad, what’s certain is that we can’t be a nation of reflective, analytic problem-solvers while cultivating a culture of distraction. I am not alone in wondering how often our children will experience the hard-fought pleasures of plunging deeply into a thought, a conversation, a state of being. Will focusing became a lost art, quaintly exhibited alongside blacksmithing at the historic village? (‘Look, honey, that man in 20th-century costume is doing just one thing!’)”


What’s Math Got to Do With It?: Helping Children Learn to Love Their Least Favorite Subject—and Why It’s Important for America

by Jo Boaler (Viking, an imprint of Penguin,; 288 pp., $24.95 hardback).

In a 2005 Associated Press-America Online News poll of 1,000 adults, 37 percent of respondents reported that math was the subject they hated most in school—twice as many as for any other subject. Yet math was also the most liked, with 23 percent of those polled saying it had been their favorite class. Boaler, a professor of mathematics education, believes this love-hate response can be attributed to different methods of teaching. When students are allowed to solve problems collaboratively and apply math to real-world situations, she writes, their understanding and enthusiasm outshine that of their peers drilled only in procedures. Accordingly, she suggests strategies for bringing “authentic” math into the classroom, along with ways to make testing a learning experience. Ability grouping and gender disparities also are considered, both for their impact on achievement and for their influence on students’ emotions toward math. Boaler reminds readers that while algorithms may be forgotten soon after graduation, turning a child’s feelings for a subject from loathing to loving can give a lifetime of benefit.

The Politics of Virginity: Abstinence in Sex Education

by Alesha E. Doan & Jean Calterone Williams (Praeger,; 208 pp., $44.95 hardback).

An indictment of abstinence-only curricula.

School Reform

The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need—and What We Can Do About It

by Tony Wagner (Basic Books, an imprint of Perseus,; 320 pp., $26.95 hardback).

When “achievement gaps” show up in discussions of American education, usually they refer to differences in learning between white, well-off students and their poor and minority peers. Wagner, a co-director of the Change Leadership Group at Harvard University’s graduate school of education, would like to add a new term to the lexicon: the “global achievement gap.” He defines it as the separation between what we’re currently teaching—even in our best schools—and what students will need to know and be able to do to succeed in the globalized knowledge economy. The latter instruction he organizes into seven “survival skills” for thinking and communication, such as the ability to problem-solve and to lead a team. Much of the book focuses on these competencies, exploring ways they can be developed and assessed, how they differ from what students currently learn, and how to train educators to teach them. In addition, Wagner examines today’s media-savvy, technology-driven students—the employees of tomorrow—and outlines methods for motivating them to be good learners, workers, and citizens in the 21st century. If our children are to thrive in a rapidly changing world, he argues, it’s time we ask the important questions about their preparation and needs.

Smart Kids, Bad Schools: 38 Ways to Save America’s Future

by Brian Crosby (Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s,; 320 pp., $24.95 hardback).

A 20-year teaching veteran offers his prescription.

Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track

by Russell L. Ackoff & Daniel Greenberg (Wharton School Publishing, an imprint of Pearson,; 224 pp., $29.99 hardback).

A management scientist and the founder of an alternative school envision education for the postindustrial era.

Urban Education

Mobilizing the Community to Help Students Succeed

by Hugh B. Price (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development,; 142 pp., $21.95 paperback).

Writing in the spirit that “it takes a village to educate a child,” Price, a former president and chief executive officer of the National Urban League who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, urges educators to look beyond schoolhouse walls for solutions to achievement gaps and high dropout rates. Parent involvement is key, he says, but schools should also ally themselves with community organizations to promote a broader culture focused on academic success. Through examples of such partnerships, he illustrates ways that co-sponsored celebrations and incentives have been used to motivate students, particularly those from disadvantaged groups. He also addresses their practicalities, such as planning, funding, and manpower, and offers guidance on getting the media to cover these events. Though the models he cites are largely from cities, Price believes they can be replicated elsewhere. Educators seeking a blueprint may find the book a valuable resource.

City Kids, City Schools: More Reports From the Front Row

edited by William Ayers, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Gregory Michie, & Pedro A. Noguera (New Press,; 384 pp., $24.95 paperback).

Essays, fiction, and poetry on the urban education experience.

Diversity and the New Teacher: Learning From Experience in Urban Schools

by Catherine Cornbleth (Teachers College Press,; 192 pp., $27.95 paperback).

Bridging the divide between white novice teachers and their minority students.

Also of Note

Educating Against Extremism

by Lynn Davies (Trentham Books, distributed in the U.S. by Stylus Publishing,; 206 pp., $32.95 paperback).

Recommends that Western schools teach political activity tempered with tolerance and critical thinking.

Home Schooling: A Family’s Journey

by Gregory Millman & Martine Millman (Tarcher, an imprint of Penguin,; 304 pp., $24.95 hardback).

A family with six home-schooled children on making it work from preschool to college.

Why School Communication Matters: Strategies From PR Professionals

by Kitty Porterfield & Meg Carnes (Rowman & Littlefield Education, published in partnership with the American Association of School Administrators,; 264 pp., $29.95 paperback).

“Talking to the Public 101” for school and district leaders.

Vol. 27, Issue 45, Pages 25-26

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