Recently, book publishers got some good news. Researchers gave 852 disadvantaged students 12 books (of their own choosing) to take home at the end of the school year. They did this for three successive years.
Then the researchers, led by Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee, looked at those students’ test scores. They found that the students who brought the books home had significantly higher reading scores than other students.
…just having those 12 books seemed to have as much positive effect as attending summer school.
This study, along with many others, illustrates the tremendous power of books. We already knew, from research in 27 countries, that kids who grow up in a home with 500 books stay in school longer and do better. This new study suggests that introducing books into homes that may not have them also produces significant educational gains.
These are the opening sentences of David Brooks’ column in today’s New York Times, The Medium Is the Medium. I don’t often quote as extensively as I am quoting in this post from one person’s work. But this column is really valuable to those of us who have a deep love of learning, the kind of learning that comes from reading books of substance. And, yes, I recognize the irony – I read this column as I glanced through my usual web sites for the day. So, here’s more of the column (I encourage you to read the entire column – it is worth the time!):
But there was one interesting observation made by a philanthropist who gives books to disadvantaged kids. It’s not the physical presence of the books that produces the biggest impact, she suggested. It’s the change in the way the students see themselves as they build a home library. They see themselves as readers, as members of a different group.
…sometimes the medium is just the medium.
What matters is the way people think about themselves while engaged in the two activities. A person who becomes a citizen of the literary world enters a hierarchical universe. There are classic works of literature at the top and beach reading at the bottom.
A person enters this world as a novice, and slowly studies the works of great writers and scholars. Readers immerse themselves in deep, alternative worlds and hope to gain some lasting wisdom. Respect is paid to the writers who transmit that wisdom.
A citizen of the Internet has a very different experience. The Internet smashes hierarchy and is not marked by deference.
…the literary world is still better at helping you become cultivated, mastering significant things of lasting import. To learn these sorts of things, you have to defer to greater minds than your own. You have to take the time to immerse yourself in a great writer’s world. You have to respect the authority of the teacher.
Right now, the literary world is better at encouraging this kind of identity. The Internet culture may produce better conversationalists, but the literary culture still produces better students.
It’s better at distinguishing the important from the unimportant, and making the important more prestigious.
Perhaps that will change. Already, more “old-fashioned” outposts are opening up across the Web. It could be that the real debate will not be books versus the Internet but how to build an Internet counterculture that will better attract people to serious learning.
Just yestereday, I quoted this line without comment: reading the right books is more important than merely reading books. I now add a comment.
Though I think reading the right book is more important than merely reading just any book, a reader has to start somewhere to develop a love of books and a deeper love of learning. Letting a student choose 12 books for the summer (to state the obvious, one book to read each week) may be exactly the right place to start.
This comes from a column about “The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050,” by über-geographer Joel Kotkin. The column is titled: Relax, We’ll be Fine. Here’s the quote:
In sum, the U.S. is on the verge of a demographic, economic and social revival, built on its historic strengths. The U.S. has always been good at disruptive change. It’s always excelled at decentralized community-building. It’s always had that moral materialism that creates meaning-rich products. Surely a country with this much going for it is not going to wait around passively and let a rotten political culture drag it down.
God save this country if that is truly the wave of the future. We will then have become a nation that makes nothing but hamburgers, creates nothing but lawyers, and sells nothing but tax shelters.
Andrew Jorgenson, fictional CEO of New England Wire and Cable, in the movie Other People’s Money (played by Gregory Peck) (a transcript of Jorgenson’s speech is here).
What do we make? This is not a small question. Our country has continued to move away from growing stuff, to making stuff, to now primarily trafficking in ideas. This is the premise of the new column by David Brooks, The Protocol Society.
In the 19th and 20th centuries we made stuff: corn and steel and trucks. Now, we make protocols: sets of instructions. A software program is a protocol for organizing information. A new drug is a protocol for organizing chemicals. Wal-Mart produces protocols for moving and marketing consumer goods. Even when you are buying a car, you are mostly paying for the knowledge embedded in its design, not the metal and glass.
Economic change is fomenting intellectual change. When the economy was about stuff, economics resembled physics. When it’s about ideas, economics comes to resemble psychology.
Brooks stated that these ideas were prompted by a new book entitled From Poverty to Prosperity, by Arnold Kling and Nick Schulz. This is just a short post to raise this question: what are the key ideas that drive your thoughts, your hours, and your economic engine?
I intentionally avoid political topics and themes on this blog. I realize that in this very volatile, divided era, once a name or a postition is named, some cheer, others condemn, and people want to argue. (See my earlier post on The Argument Culture, and how Deborah Tannen predicted the coming argument wars).
But this was too good to pass up. Whether you agree with the assessment or not, it provides for serious thought and discussion regarding leadership and decision making. The thought comes from David Brooks, one of the conservative columnists for the New York Times. In his column The Analytic Mode, December 3, 2009, he reflects on President Obama’s approach to his Afghanistan strategy and troop decision. This is what he wrote:
The advantage of the Obama governing style is that his argument-based organization is a learning organization. Amid the torrent of memos and evidence and dispute, the Obama administration is able to adjust and respond more quickly than, say, the Bush administration ever did.
Brooks pictures the Obama approach as that of a learning organization. Here’s the definition (from Wikipedia): A Learning Organization is the term given to a company that facilitates the learning of its members and continuously transforms itself.
Though there are five identified traits of a learning organization — Systems Thinking, Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Shared Vision, and Team Learning — I think we can identify the following as critical to a learning organization’s success as a learning organization. A learning organization is an organization where the following is true:
1) Teaching and learning are at the center of the organization.
2) Everyone, from the leaders throughout the organization, values learning.
3) Disagreement and dissent are valued, because if there is no disagreement, learning does not happen. Instead, perpetuating frozen, possibly wrong, viewpoints becomes dominant – and the organization finds itself left behind in a hurry.
This the second time that an author has put modern day business labels on President Obama’s approach to governing. (at least, the second one that I am aware of). The earlier was an author calling President Obama our first GTD President. (see my post here). I’m a fan of the learning organization approach, and Brook’s observation gives me hope.