Favorite Books

The Best Book about Education for Everyone?

CJ Westerberg, January 17, 2012 6:08 PM

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Orig.Published 12/09 - A Classic Series From The Daily Riff

The Global Achievement Gap:
Why even our best schools don't teach the survival skills our children need -
and what we can do about it


By C.J. Westerberg

I've been carrying around this book, The Global Achievement Gap, for the last nine months like an old friend.  It is highlighted, dog-eared, exclamation pointed, pages are circled - you get the picture.  It's a mess.

This is a book I've recommended to school board members, parents, and educators, without feeling patronizing, disconnected or stupid.

No kidding, we all started sharing some "Aha" moment in conversations.  

This is good.  Very, very good.   For those of us who know how wide the trenches can be between boards, administrators, parents, teachers, and oh hell, toss in everyone, Tony Wagner is "the man".   My words:  "Really, you can understand this world!"

                                                                                   This is what I mean:

The man speaks English and doesn't go down a black hole of unnecessary language or scholarly writing.  He gives what every parent, teacher, principal, or for that matter, anyone who has any interest in education, may need to know:  the global reality, competition, skills,  content, teachers, testing.  He actually suggests smart solutions. 



The Global Achievement Gap is eye-opening about what we all should look for and what questions we should be asking. . . .  gets to the point without being clinical . . . gives a few good examples, without going on and on ....

Plus, Wagner has some impressive creds:  Harvard, with extensive teaching experience, principal, consultant, Gates Foundation, webinars with...students. 

Full of candor, an interesting perspective, and knowledge, it's the book to get if you'd like to be smarter about education.      

P.S.  The following is Part 2 of this post, which is geared more for education "insiders".  Check it out or you can escape now while you have the chance . . . because it's about the warring factions between the 21st Century Skills versus the Core Knowledge folks, whose spear-throwing moves are at an all time high this week.

This humble observer thinks Tony Wagner was already smoking the peace pipe between these two groups some time ago.  Here are a few of his considered, sensible remarks from his book with a 2008 copyright:

From  Global Achievement Gap:  pp. 261 - 263 :

Q.  You don't explore academic subjects and content in much detail.   Why?

A.  I believe some content should indeed be memorized, and I think core academic subject knowledge as well as what the author and literary critic E. D. Hirsch calls "cultural literacy" are important.  Do I think all students should memorize their times tables?  Have a basic knowledge of geography and the timelines of the U.S. and world history?  Be exposed to Shakespeare?  Speak a second language?  Absolutely.

Beyond an easy list such as this one, however, things begin to get a little more difficult, as well as more specific as to a a time and place....  

...Trying to establish what constitutes or defines core academic knowledge has a number of pitfalls.  First there is the sheer quantity of content, and that it continues to grow exponentially.  In science, what is considered "true" must be constantly updated - such as the recent change in the definition of a planet.          

...Finally, it should be obvious that there is no way to teach the competencies of critical thinking, problem solving, effective communication, and accessing and analyzing information, and so on without also teaching academic content.  Subject-content material is what you think and write about, and problem solving is initially best understood and practiced as a party of the study of math, science, and social studies.  But in today's  world, academic content must be the means by which we teach core competencies - rather than through merely memorizing (and often forgetting) academic content for its own sake. 

Students can always look up when the Battle of Gettysburg took place, or who General Sherman was, but they can't just Google the causes of the Civil War and make sense of what comes up on the screeen.  To understand such an issue, you have to know how to think crictically, and you need a broader conceptual understanding of American history, economics, and more.  As we've seen, these skills and this kind of knowledge are rarely taught or tested in high schools today.


  So it goes on . . .

Related The Daily Riff:

Would You Hire Your Own Kids?  Seven Skills Schools Should Be Teaching Them by Tony Wagner

No one tests you on empathy

The Finland Phenonenom: Inside the World's Most Surprising School System - Video w/Bob Compton and Tony Wagner

Something's Gotta Give by C.J. Westerberg 


  • vew

    I am not in acedamia, but I will certainly buy the book as will others in my morning coffee group---GA (grandparents anonymous). Love your help to keep us informed and current.

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