Posts Tagged ‘Education’

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being by Martin E. P. Seligman

April 17, 2014

Flourish by Martin E.P. SeligmanLongtime psychologist Martin Seligman argues that there is more to mental health than the absence of mental illness. He is a proponent of a movement he calls “positive psychology,” which proposes a five-fold view of well-being
represented by the acronym PERMA: Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. A rigorous scientist, Seligman packs his book with statistics and results from numerous experiments, showing that positive psychology really does make a difference in our life fulfillment.

For example, he makes the point that most of us have heard of PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder—but we need a better understanding of post-traumatic growth. Without a working knowledge of how to grow stronger through life’s adversity, we are apt to fear that every downturn in our mood is the beginning of depression or some other mental syndrome.

This book is the story of the positive psychology movement and how it is gaining ground in schools, universities, corporations, and the military. It is also filled with practical exercises for individuals to use, such as WWW: “What Went Well.” At the end of the day, think of three things that went well, and analyze how your personal strengths contributed to them going well. I tried this, and it really does help me to notice and build on the things in my life that are successful.

Seligman makes the point that some of the most accomplished people in history have had to struggle with depression and have come out stronger for it. Life is a balance. None of us are happy all the time, but well-being is more than happiness; it also encompasses growth, along with a positive sense of achievement and purpose in life. This book provides an excellent road map to point us in the right direction.

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Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Sharon S’s Picks

December 23, 2013

One of the reasons why I like to read is for inspiration and instruction on how to live a better life. Here are the “new to me” books that inspired me most this year.

Healing Through Exercise by Jorg Blech
We all know that exercise can help prevent illness, but Jorg Blech provides well-documented evidence that exercise also promotes healing from existing illness. That means it is never too late to start. Even moderate exercise can have profound effects. The body atrophies more and more the longer we sit or lie in bed, so Blech urges us to get moving in whatever way we can to improve our health and extend our range of motion. Read my full review.

The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew
First-time novelist Mayhew has crafted a wonderful tale of growing up in the South in the 1950s. The story is told by 14-year-old Jubie, whose unjaded point of view enables her to understand many things the grown-ups around her fail to notice. In the face of tragedy, Jubie finds the courage to act on what she knows to be true, even though it goes against the grain of her society. Read my full review.

Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard
Is America still a place where you can make a life for yourself with very little besides hard work and gumption? Shepard decided to find out by starting a new life as a homeless man in an unfamiliar city. What he was able to achieve and how is a fascinating and thought-provoking tale. Read my full review.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Paulo Coelho’s characters are afraid of happiness; after all, it might be better to keep on dreaming than to realize your dreams and be disappointed in them. This story of a young shepherd who dared to pursue his dream in the face of many obstacles has inspired countless readers. It is a good place to start if you want to read the works of this internationally acclaimed author.

The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius by Kristine Barnett
Jake Barnett is a 14-year-old genius who is working on a new theory of relativity which is expected to put him in line for the Nobel Prize. However, this biography is his mother’s story of how she brought out the best in a child who was diagnosed as profoundly autistic and unable to learn. It is a story of courage and creativity which is my favorite true story of the year. Read my full review.

The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius by Kristine Barnett

June 4, 2013

At age fourteen, Jake Barnett is one of the world’s leading astrophysicists.  He is a graduate student and published researcher at Indiana University, where he is working on an original theory in relativity which is expected to put him in line for the Nobel Prize.

At age three, Jake was diagnosed with autism.  Although he had been an early talker, he stopped making eye contact and did not speak a single word for eighteen months.  He spent many hours of the day staring at a blank wall.  Therapists and special education teachers told his mother, Kristine, that he would never learn to read, that the most she could hope for was that he would learn to tie his shoes by age sixteen.

Although Kristine recognized the importance of therapy sessions for an autistic child, she noticed that the sessions were always focused on things that Jake couldn’t or wouldn’t do.  She decided to give him opportunities and encouragement to do the things he enjoyed doing.

When Jake made webs of colored string so huge and complex that Kristine could not get past them to go into her kitchen, she never complained, but noticed how beautifully patterned they were.  When Jake dumped out all the boxes of cereal in the house and refilled them with styrofoam balls, she let him.  How could she know at the time that he was calculating volume?

Eventually, she came to see that in school and therapy sessions, Jake literally had been too bored to pay attention.  When he seemed to be staring at the blank wall behind the therapist, he was actually observing the play of light and shadows.  He became so adept at noticing these patterns that he put himself to bed every night at precisely the same time (even after his parents hid every clock in the house) using his own “shadow clock.”  Indeed, the interplay of light and time later became the basis for his groundbreaking theory in physics.  He was completely uninterested in things like social niceties and the wooden block puzzles the therapists tried to get him to do.

Once he had time to do what he loved, Jake became more able and willing to do things that were less interesting, but that other people believed were important—things like sleeping, eating, and interacting cooperatively with others.  Now he has many friends, plays basketball, chats easily with his younger brothers, tutors his fellow college students, navigates a downtown university campus alone, and gives lectures on his theory.

Nurturing our “spark” can help us become well-rounded, happy, and fulfilled individuals like Jake.  However, it takes another kind of genius—like his mom, Kristine—to help bring out the best in us.

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The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller

June 26, 2012

When author Jennifer Miller contacted me through Goodreads to recommend that I read her book, she had clearly done her research. She’d seen how much I enjoyed Special Topics in Calamity Physics and figured that her debut novel, The Year of the Gadfly, would be right up my alley. Its part coming-of-age story set at a New England prep school, part mystery that spans 13 years and three perspectives, and all sinister secret societies, gothic architecture, and intrigue.

Iris’s recent loss of her best friend, not to mention being caught by her concerned parents while talking to her imaginary mentor, Edward R. Murrow, land her in a new school in a new town with a new start. Wanting to become a hard-nosed reporter, dedicated to discovering the truth and uncovering injustices in the world, Iris joins the school newspaper, The Oracle. Her pitches for stories are repeatedly rejected in favor of fluff pieces, and Iris begins to nose around into the reasons behind the cover ups and lies that seem so rampant at Mariana Academy.

The history of the school begins to unwind, slowly at first, and then more and more quickly. The story skips between Iris, her biology teacher Jonah Kaplan (a Mariana Academy alum), and Lily Morgan, a classmate of Jonah’s who grew up in the house that Iris’s family now rents. Jonah and Lily’s stories intertwine and skirt around the truth of what happened at Mariana 12 years before, leading to the death (or perhaps suicide?) of Jonah’s brother (and Lily’s boyfriend), Justin.

I don’t want to say much more and spoil anything for you, so pick this up and try it out for yourself. And if you enjoy this one, be sure to take a look at Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman and The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

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The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs

May 2, 2012

When I was bored as a kid my parents would give me a letter from the World Book to read. I was fascinated by the amount of stuff that you could find out, especially really weird stuff, and could waste several hours looking through the books. So when this book arrived, I knew I would have to read it.

A. J. Jacobs decides that the best way to make him feel smarter around his family would be to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from start to finish. Part of his motivation is to outdo his father who started to read it but never made it past the A’s. Of course, most of his friends and family don’t believe he will finish it, but this only adds to his determination. As he reads, he finds out many things both trivial and important. Part of the fun in the book is the sheer randomness of the topics he is reading about, and how he can relate it to what is happening in his life. Much of what he reads is unrelated to anything at all, though. And the stranger, more obscure, or more morbid the fact is, the more Jacobs is interested in it.

The author also becomes interested in how knowledge, facts, and learning relate to intelligence. He meets with professors to discuss methods and theories of education. He also becomes engrossed in the cross word puzzle world, joins Mensa, and competes on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. One of the most important things Jacobs learns as he progresses is how annoying inserting unwanted facts can be. Friends and family start to avoid him at parties, and the author starts to notice their eyes glazing over as he wanders off topic. Finally, his wife begins to fine him a dollar for each time his trivia is unrelated to the topic they are discussing. Jacobs organizes his book from A to Z (Aa – Zywiec) so you can follow him through the set as well as the year. Readers of all ages will enjoy this book and may even learn a thing or two. It’s kind of sad to know that the habit of picking up the encyclopedia and browsing is going away, though. This year the Encyclopedia Britannica announced they would no longer be putting out their printed volumes. They will only be available online in the future. Luckily, you can access this resource through the library’s Research page, by clicking on OneSearch.

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NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman

January 24, 2012

So, you had your 2.2 kids and read all the right books, listened to all the right experts, and now you’re an expert too, right?  Think again.  After raising four children (only one left to put through college) and sitting down to read an adult book or two, I thought there would be nothing new for me to learn about the joys and tortures of parenthood.  And then I read NurtureShock by Po Bronson (author of What Should I Do With My Life?) and Ashley Merryman.

This book will challenge everything you thought you knew about raising children.  This is not a book that proposes the “right way” to raise a child, but rather presents the facts about how the current school of thought on child-rearing actually works (or doesn’t).  And just as Steven Levitt accomplishes in his book Freakonomics, which challenges commonly held beliefs on economic issues, Bronson and Merryman support their assertions with reams of research and the results of studies conducted world-wide.

Who would have thought that the more you praise a child, the lower their confidence level?  Or that an extra hour of sleep may be better for your kid’s IQ than an extra hour of studying?  And if your argumentative teen makes you want to pull your hair out, don’t—the alternative is even worse.  All this, and more, is waiting for you inside the covers of this intriguing book.

The issues covered in NurtureShock concern children at all stages of development, from infancy to the teen years, so all parents are sure to find these insights interesting.  But even non-parents will be fascinated by the science behind the information—think of all the fun you’ll have advising your parenting friends and family on what they are doing wrong!  Parents love advice from their childless friends . . . Don’t they?

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Hope and Despair in the American City: Why There are No Bad Schools in Raleigh by Gerald Grant

July 25, 2011

Everybody knows that there has recently been enough drama on the Wake County School Board to fill a book. But did you know that somebody actually filled one? In May 2009, Syracuse University professor Gerald Grant published his 226-page treatise about why the Wake County School System’s system of drawing school attendance zones to equalize the ratio of  impoverished children at each school was a policy other school systems should copy. Six months after the book was published, Wake County residents voted in a new school board majority who favored abolishing the economic diversity policy that Grant extolled.

This book is a quick read for anybody who wants background information on the unfolding political saga. A short history back to the days of segregation provides a good explanation of the national political forces that shaped the local economic diversity policy. And those who want to better understand the perspective of the School Board majority led by chairman Ron Margiotta, who previously served on a school board in the Northeast, will appreciate the contrast between Wake County Schools and the public schools in the author’s hometown of Syracuse, New York.

Just keep in mind as you are reading that author Gerald Grant is an academic. Although he said in an interview with The Independent Weekly that his two grandsons are Wake County School pupils, he clearly does not draw his conclusions as a Wake County stakeholder would. His evidence in favor of the policy hinges on test scores and a few school visits chaperoned by administrators and does not include any testimony about individual families’ experiences.

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