7 books, 2 talks, 1 TV show and Al Pacino – what One Good Question folks are reading

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Accountability / Collective Impact / One Good Question / Questions / School Design

Fall Reading Recs

During every One Good Question interview, we have awesome side conversations and anecdotes that don’t make the final edit.  I’ve noticed my reading list grow in direct relationship to our side bars.  As you start planning your personal fall syllabus, here are a few titles that might resonate:


On design
Aylon Samouha: The End of Average: How we succeed in a world that values sameness, Todd Rose 

Rose opens his Ted Talk and book with the following poignant anecdote : In the 40s as planes where getting faster and more complex, there was a spike in plane crashes.  They checked the planes and said the planes were fine, but the pilots were making errors.  They tried to solve for the pilot errors and began designing the cockpit for “the average pilot.”  They took some average pilot demographics and size to adjust, but there were still no improvements in performance.  They quickly learned that none of the 400 pilots sampled actually measured the average size of their calculations.  The cockpit wasn’t designed for any real person.  Eventually they tried to fit the system to the individual and invented adjustable seats, etc. things, that we take for granted now.  In the book, you learn that that’s the secret of all design: « any system that is trying to fit the individual is actually doomed to fail. »


On elite education
Peter Howe: Excellent Sheep, William Deresiewicz

Deresiewicz is a first generation immigrant whose father was a professor.  His basic premise is that elite education in the US is producing intellectual sheep who are terrified of failure.  These youth grow up with model CVs from birth, but have no resilience, creativity or desire to think outside of the box. Without giving it all away, he concludes that « If we are here to create a decent society, a just society, a wise and prosperous society, a society where children can learn for the love of learning and people can work for the love of work…We don’t have to love our neighbors as ourselves, but we need to love our neighbors’ children as our own…We have tried aristocracy.  We have tried meritocracy.   Now it’s time to try democracy. »


On local funding
Susanna Williams: Parks and Recreation, NBC

With national elections on the horizon, we focus on national policy and the influence of national lobby groups.  The general public has little understanding about how state and local funding decisions are made.  State government deals with the important daily stuff, but it’s not sexy, so there’s a lack of TV/entertainment exposure to those decisions.  If you want to learn about local funding issues, watch Parks & Rec. In most states, local legislature is limited to those whose jobs allow them to have flexible jobs for 6-months – ranchers and farmers in western states and self-funded individuals who are so wealthy that they don’t need to work.  That’s who’s making our local policy and funding decisions.


On creating coalitions
Dan Varner: Any Given Sunday, Oliver Stone

My favorite movie inspirational scene is this great speech form Any Given Sunday.  Al Pacino’s in the locker room and giving his football team the encouragement to get back out and turn the game around.  « The inches we need are everywhere around us. On this team, we fight for that inch. » His point, and the way that it inspires me, is that when creating our coalition, we had to recognize that “the inches we needed” were already there —  in our schools, green space, food service, healthcare — and it was up to us to harness that power.


On diversity in ed tech
Mike DeGraff: Making Good: Equality and Diversity in Maker EducationLeah Buechley

In Leah’s talk, she highlights the imperative we have to define maker education separately from the mainstream Maker Magazine and Faires.  Those events tend to be homogenous groups that reflects the values and interests of it’s audience.  To me, this is exactly why we, in education, need to systematically develop opportunities around making for a more diverse population, which, early indications show, is working.


On questioning
Anu Passi-Rauste: A More Beautiful Question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas, Warren Berger

I was a visiting a small non-profit in Boston and the ED recommended this book to me.  It’s all about how to make a good question.  My one big takeaway is that I need to figure out my One Good Question before I start my next project. What is the most beautiful question that I want to raise ?


On accountability
Tony Monfiletto:  The Allure of Order: High Hopes, Dashed Expectations, and the Troubled Quest to Remake American SchoolingJal Mehta

Mehta outlines how the investment in accountability at the back end of the education system is an effort to make up for the fact that we haven’t invested as aggressively in the front end.  We don’t put enough time, energy or strategy into good school design, preparation of teachers, or capital development. Because we don’t put enough resources into those areas, we try to make up for it in accountability structures.


On solving complex problems
Tom Vander Ark: The Ingenuity Gap: How can we solve the problems of the future?, Thomas Homer-Dixon 

Dixon’s work centers on the fact that we seem incapable of addressing our basic problems.  The problems that we’re facing in society grow in complexity.  Their interrelatedness with each other and our civic problem solving capacity is diminishing.  We’ve created enormously complex systems, but we have more and more black swan events that we can’t predict or solve.  If you’re trying to figure out how to address complex system needs, this book helps to order your thinking.


Tom Vander ArkThe Singularity is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, Ray Kurzweil

People have a linear memory and we assume that the future will be like the past, but the future is happening exponentially faster than we appreciate.  In The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil posits that computers will be smarter than people, and that, while we know it’s happening, we can’t fully understand the implications of that trajectory.


On bias
Rhonda Broussard: Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, Mahzarin Banaji & Anthony Greenwald

This is the psychology behind the Project Implicit research and it’s fascinating. Through clever analogies, card tricks, and pop culture references, the researchers teach us how our brains create bias, how that can convert to prejudice or discrimination, and how to make peace when our aspirational beliefs and implicit biases are at odds.






The Author

Passionate about education reform, multilingualism, peace, diaspora dance forms, and intersectionality.

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