Home > Shifting schooling > Books that have shifted m(y)our thinking

Books that have shifted m(y)our thinking

April 5th, 2009

Years ago at NZCER we used to have lunchtime forums every now and again where we’d each talk about books we’d read, and why we liked them. It was awesome, and a great way to find out about titles you hadn’t heard of (also: knowing that they had been pre-read by a colleague meant there was a filtering-out of dross!)

Like many of my colleagues, I tend to get quite excited when I read something interesting. I go around telling people about it and recommending they read it too “so we can discuss it!”.¬† I’ve picked up a few really interesting non-fiction books in the last six months that I’ve been “pushing” others to read. One is Here comes everybody: the power of organizing without organizations by Clay Shirky. There’s so many ideas packed into this book that it’s hard to condense into a short summary – but in short, Shirky’s book is one of those great books that provokes us to do a whole lot of re-thinking about the nature of society in the 21st century, specifically, due to the impacts of networked technologies. (I’ve passed the book on to a team member, otherwise I’d grab it and try to put together a few notes for you here).

What I like about authors like Shirky and Malcolm Gladwell (author of some other favourite books of mine: The Tipping Point and Blink, plus Outliers which I haven’t read yet) is the way they carry you along through a page-turning blend of stories and theory. These are the kinds of books that “shift my thinking” and help me to suddenly look at familiar problems and situations in new ways. (For example, we’ve used a few ideas from Shirky’s book in our recent shiftingthinking.org development team meetings, to help us figure out what we want this site to do, and how we can engage other people¬† in working through and developing ideas in this space about learning and education in the 21st century).

Another book, Everything bad is good for you, by Steven Johnson, gave me a whole bunch of ideas about how our minds engage with popular culture – and these ideas are sitting subversively beneath my comment on Jim’s blog here. (Read his response here)**.

As a educational researcher I spend a lot of time reading “education” books and articles, and while this is obviously really important, I think that the most interesting ideas I’ve picked up from books tend to come from authors writing in other fields, like those I’ve mentioned above – because when I read them, I have to think really hard about “well, what does all this mean for education”? I’ve had some really interesting discussions over the years with various teachers and principals (and other researchers, of course) who also like reading and sharing good books, so I know there are others out there just waiting for the chance to share THEIR recommended reads so we can discuss them.

So – what have you read that’s provoked your thinking? What were its implications for thinking about education in the 21st century? What questions did it raise in your mind? Finally, where can we get a copy so we can also read it and discuss it with you here? Please post your comments!!

**As an aside, Steven Johnson’s book also made me feel totally legitimized for my lifetime’s dedication to watching television.

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  1. Maurice
    | #1

    Hi all

    I found I’d placed so many sticky markers in Ken Robinson’s 2001 book which is still very pertinent: Out of our minds: Learning to be creative that it looks a bit like a hedgehog. It goes well with his talk at TED about creativity and schools.

    While the world is flat is also riveting, closer to home and of real interest for teachers in NZ classrooms, particularly in the light of the new curriculum, is Melinda Webber’s Walking the space between from NZCER.

  2. | #2

    @Juliette Hayes
    Juliette, I’m halfway through “The World is Flat” and I agree it is a real wake-up call! I’ve found myself partly marvelling and partly terrified by the stories in that book.

    Thanks very much for mentioning our book Disciplining and Drafting – it’s wonderful to hear that you and other leaders have found it useful. For anyone else who’s interested, the ‘networked camping ground’ metaphor and others from the book are the subject of this blog entry .

  3. Juliette Hayes
    | #3

    Two of the books that influenced my thinking as I explored futures-focused leadership in secondary schools were:

    The World is Flat (Thomas Friedman, 2006). This really opened my eyes as to the extent of globalisation, and why education in NZ has to change if we are to provide the dispositions, skills and knowledge that our country will need in the future. Without understanding change on a global scale it can be hard to understand the need to shift our thinking. A current line I’m hearing is, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This indicates to me that some educators haven’t got the idea yet that “It IS broke!”

    Disciplining and Drafting (Rachel Bolstad & Jane Gilbert, 2008) – every one of the principals in my study has used this book extensively, both for their own thinking and as professional reading for their staff. I have copies for all of my curriculum leaders, and we dive in and out of it constantly. The ‘networked camping ground’ is a model that has been a springboard for all sorts of curriculum innovation, when adapted for each school’s context.

  4. | #4

    Another idea that has really struck me from Shirky’s book(and other books that talk about networked society in the 21st century) is the idea that through the internet, many many people are now collaborating in the production of groups, texts, communities, etc “for love and not for money”. Of course, historically, a lot of what happens in society has happened because of the work of volunteers, hobbyists, self-forming groups and societies etc…not because people are paid to do it. I guess the difference with the internet is that it lessens the “cost” and difficulty of mass collaboration, ad also opens up collaboration at a much wider geographic scale. That is, I guess, what we are hoping to achieve with shiftingthinking.org – opening up this space for as many people as are interested to come and contribute, discuss, debate ideas around education for the 21st century, not because they are paid to or because it’s their job to, but because they are interested, they care, and their is some kind of intrinsic “reward” associated with participating. Wikipedia is a good example of a collaborative webspace where people are motivated to contribute to, edit, correct pages because they are interested and passionate and care about the information or the subject. We’ll never develop a community the size of wikipedia’s, but hopefully we will start to build enough interest from others to give shiftingthinking a life and community that extends beyond the few of us who are currently blogging and commenting!
    PS. I’m writing this comment from the AERA (American Educational Research Association) Annual Conference in San Diego) – taking time out to comment on shifting thinking ‘cos I <3 [heart] shifting thinking :)

  5. Jane
    | #5

    The ideas talked about in the book Here Comes Everybody are highly relevant for websites like this one – an especially thought-provoking bit (for me) is the part (around p.35ff) where he argues that one result of the various new networking technologies is a change in group activity – from the pattern ‘gather then share’ (where the group, to survive, needs some form of management, and the transaction costs of this tend to mean that only certain types of groups survive) to a ‘share then gather’ pattern (he uses Flickr as an example), which produces loosely structured, ad hoc groups that work without managerial direction. This has implications for the scope and nature of work that could now be done by non-institutional groups, and, as such, is a major challenge to the status quo – in particular, how traditional organisations, the professions, and politics and government work.

  1. | #1
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