Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reviewing David Elkind's Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk

It does not surprise me to see such a wide variety of opinions concerning David Elkind's book, Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk. Dr. Elkind, a professor at Tufts University and author of nearly 20 books, believes that too many of America's children are being taught material that is not age-appropriate. Dr. Elkind believes that many preschool children are taught information that should actually be taught to elementary students. He believes that many young children receiving structured instruction at an early age can be harmed psychologically and/or physically.

This 200+ page book is organized into four parts: Education and Miseducation (Chapter 1), The Social Dynamics of Miseducation (Chapters 2-4), The Risks of Miseducation (Chapters 5-7), and Healthy Education (Chapters 8-9). In Chapter one Dr. Elkind lays out his argument that early instruction teaches the wrong things at the wrong time. In Chapter two Dr. Elkind describes eight different kinds of parents and the mistakes they make. Chapter three covers what we have considered being the competent child over the last several decades. Chapter four is focused on computer education, and it is extremely dated (the book was published in 1987) and rather comical. Chapters 5-7 examines the first three stages of Erik Erickson's social development stages. In Chapter eight Dr. Elkind provides practical suggestions for making the right choices for the education of your child. The last chapter consists of 30 questions parents have asked Dr. Elkind that he answers.

So what is my take on the book? I started kindergarten at the age of four and was the youngest in my class. I am very thankful that my parents started me early in school, but that does not mean I did not have issues. I still have lots of issues, but don't we all? Our daughters have summer or fall birthdays, and we chose to start them in a school setting a year after many parents might have. Each parent needs to evaluate their child and see what is best for them. We and others believe our youngest daughter, a kindergartner, could find success in the current first-grade class, but we want our Grace to continue to be in an early childhood environment before she is pushed to complete homework and miss out on a lot of playtimes. There are definitely some advantages for delaying formal schooling; however, my wife did provide some formal instruction for Grace before she started attending school. Dr. Elkind is not a fan of this. I think it is important to examine each child and if they find formal learning to be a fun activity, why wouldn't you provide this?

If you don't have little tots runnin' around your house or school and never will, this book is probably not going to be of much interest to you. If you are a "tiger mom" you will probably hate this book with the passion of your tiger heart. Although we delayed the formal schooling of both of our daughters, I feel Dr. Elkind made some broad sweeping statements. There are definitely many parents out there pushing their kids to accomplish tasks that they are not ready for. There are also many parents out there not doing enough. There needs to be a balance as in many things in life. I think with nearly 25 years have passed since the last version of Miseducation, an update is in order.

Reviewing Gloria Ladson-Billings' The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children

This book was required reading for a Nature of the Learner course I took Columbia International University. In Dr. Ladson-Billings' second edition of The Dreamkeepers (2009), she revisits eight teachers who were interviewed and observed in the first edition (1994). 15 new teachers who are examples of great teaching are also introduced in the afterword. The stories of all of the teachers take place in predominantly African American school districts. The basic premise of the book is to show that culturally relevant teaching is a matter of teachers bringing out the different strengths of students in the classrooms. Each teacher that Dr. Ladson-Billings studied focused on three central things in their teaching - a strong focus on student learning, developing cultural competence, and cultivating a sociopolitical awareness in the students.

The Dreamkeepers consists of seven chapters and is 225 pages when including the two appendices (Dr. Ladson-Billings' methodology and the context of the study), 14 pages of notes, the index, and 21 study questions. I do not find The Dreamkeepers to be a riveting read, but that is a common theme in a number of my book reviews of this type. I do think this book is important for African American teachers and teachers of African American students and can certainly be of benefit for anyone in the teaching profession. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Lost from AsiaLink HistoryMaker on Vimeo.

Reviewing Gene Edwards' A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness

Gene Edwards dedicates A Tale of Three Kings: A Study in Brokenness to brokenhearted Christians coming out of authoritarian groups, seeking solace, healing, and hope. Many Christian leaders have recommended this story that focuses on the lives of King Saul, King David, and David's son, Absalom. I was gifted with this 30-year-old book at the start of the school year, and every week or so the administrators I work with read and discuss approximately a dozen pages. This second edition contains less than 100 pages and is divided into two parts comprised of 27 chapters. Part one is about King Saul and David when he was a shepherd boy. In part two David is now king, and his son Absalom is attempting to overthrow him. The book also contains 17 discussion questions and two chapters from The Prisoner in the Third Cell (Edwards' story about John the Baptist).

Fiction is not my cup of tea, but I like how this book was based on biblical accounts. If you are a fundamentalist, you probably will not like the creative liberties Edwards takes in his writings. I did not have any problemo with Edwards' view on the lives of the men he wrote about, but I want to note that we should not walk away from reading this book thinking we should never go on the offensive. The main point Edwards wants to get across is that we should not throw spears at those who throw spears at us (Matthew 5:38-42). I agree, but there are times when we are called to take action. Yes, God is sovereign. He is the supreme ruler of the universe, and He is in total control of everything. However, God calls us to respond differently to different situations. We're not David, and we should look to the ultimate David, Jesus Christ. Jesus is both the Lamb of God and the Lion of Judah. When He displayed anger, He did so righteously. Our problem is that the overwhelming majority of the time when we get angry, we sin. Jesus had controlled anger when His Father was being dishonored. We usually get angry because someone says something rude to us, someone does not prepare the food we ordered in the way we like it, or hot water does not come out of the shower head for us. Through spiritual disciplines such as the reading of Scripture and prayer, we can receive the answers we need in order to know how to respond to the storms of life in a Christlike way.

So what is my final take on A Tale of Three Kings? I give the book a B-, but perhaps I would rate it higher if I was more of the poetic variety. :-)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Reviewing David Strahan's Promoting Harmony: Young Adolescent Development & Classroom Practices

Promoting Harmony: Young Adolescent Development & Classroom Practices is another book that I read for an admin class I am taking through CIU. This third edition was published over two years ago by the Association for Middle Level Education (formerly known as the National Middle School Association). The 110-page book only has five chapters and is a quick read. Chapter titles include Moments of Harmony: Relationships as the Essence of Good Teaching, Intellectual and Emotional Development, Physical and Sexual Development, Social, Personal, and Moral Development, and Promoting Harmony in Middle Level Classrooms. Student interviews are found in the first four chapters, and I found them to be perhaps the best part of the book. A few small black and white pictures are sprinkled throughout the book. Although Promoting Harmony was not an exciting read, it did assist me in making a few improvements to a Sixth Grade Parent Night presentation that I make at the start of every school year. I do have to mention that I find the cover to be absolutely hilarious. The kids look like they belong in high school or even college. What up wit' dat?!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Reviewing Eric Jensen's Teaching with the Brain in Mind

Eric Jensen is a former teacher and the author of more than two dozen books on learning and the brain. His Teaching with the Brain in Mind was published 13 years ago, but this second edition was revised and updated six years ago. The book is approximately 160 pages not including the glossary, references, and index. It consists of 12 chapters that provide a basic introduction to the anatomy of the brain and how to apply brain research in the classroom.

The basic message of Jensen's book is that we have a much greater ability to affect the learning of students than we realize. Some of the many topics covered in his book include how to prepare children for school, how to motivate students to participate, how to influence emotional states, how to design smarter schools, and how to enhance memory and critical thinking skills.

Teaching with the Brain in Mind was one of four books I was assigned for an Understanding the Learner class that I am taking through Columbia International University. I would not have chosen to read this book had it not been required reading, however, reading the book has definitely made me reflect on how I have instructed students and perhaps what I should have done differently. Today I would attempt to find ways to bring more kinesthetics and music into the classroom. I would also do a better job of inviting guest speakers and challenging the students to learn about and further serve the local community. I will need to promote these kind of activities amongst the teachers I work with. 

My final analysis: I think few would call Jensen's book a gripping read, but it is clear and will provide you some practical insights.  


Reviewing J. Mack Stiles' Marks of the Messenger

Marks of the Messenger was a book that I (and a few other administrators) passed out to the TIS faculty and staff this year. Prior to receiving this book, I was not familiar with J. Mack Stiles, but a few of the people endorsing his book are authors whose books and blogs I have benefited from greatly (D.A. Carson, Thabiti Anyabwille, and C.J. Mahaney).

Although I read more than the average person, I do not often read books in a short period of time. This was not the case with Stiles' book which I completed in less than a day. I found my introduction to Stiles, a man who has served in both the United States and UAE, to be quite enjoyable. I foresee that this will not be the last time I find myself reading his work. Perhaps I am slightly biased because Marks of the Messenger covers an all-important topic - knowing, living, and sharing the Good News. Unfortunately, this is a topic that is not always handled well. Stiles, on the other hand, delivers very solid cross-centered teaching.

Marks of the Messenger is less than 130 pages and consists of only ten chapters. Chapter titles include, "Does the Message We Share Look Like the Message We Bear?," "Worldly Love and its Fruit," and "A Manifesto for Healthy Evangelism." If you want to read about the Truth and how to be a better witness, I highly recommend Stiles' book.

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Romans 10:17

Reviewing Helmut Thiekicke's A Little Exercise For Young Theologians

I ordered A Little Exercise For Young Theologians from Amazon this summer for a theology class that I plan to take in the near future. I was not familiar with the author or the book prior to this summer.

Helmut Thielicke was a German Protestant preacher and professor who wrote A Little Exercise For Young Theologians nearly 50 years ago. The 50-page book consists of 13 short chapters with an introduction by Martin E. Marty, a prominent American Lutheran religious scholar. Thielicke wrote this book in an effort to inspire students, teachers, and preachers to theological excellence and to take responsibility within local communities. He was particularly concerned that those with a background in theology have an ability to effectively communicate with everyday people.

Every review I read of Thielicke's book states this book is a good or great read for both new and seasoned students of the Word. I wholeheartedly agree that it is of the utmost importance that no one becomes arrogant in their theological pursuits. We have far too many people who do not balance grace and truth as they grow in their knowledge of the Lord. However, I do feel that another translation from the publishers could reach more people. Most lay people will have difficulty with the language found in this book. Thielicke was not writing to today's American audience, and this challenge will very like turn many people away. Despite appearing to be a quick read, A Little Exercise For Young Theologians should be prayerfully read in a reflecting manner.