It is understandable that educators and policy makers are concerned with preparing students for the future. That may explain the popularity of best sellers such as Tom Friedman's The World Is Flat or Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind. As I discussed in my review of Pink's book in The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate (www.DistrictAdministration.com/pulse), the most popular business how-to books were written by people who have accomplished little in the business world and are not taken very seriously by successful corporate leaders.
Last year The New York Times interviewed accomplished business leaders and found that they read poetry, philosophy, literature and history. It is the ideals of a strong liberal arts education that fills their lives with pleasure and purpose. Their life preparation avoided the narrow vocational options so many policy leaders propose as the educational path for today's students.
I wrote in my book review, "Ultimately the success of these [business] books is based on the authors' ability to reduce complex concepts to simplistic binary dichotomies or playground rhymes. Such books are filled with numbered rule-based advice with little room for nuance. Issues are either black or white and the principles apply to any situation."
Of course, these rules apply to a complex system with as many variables and moving parts as public education. School leaders should be secure in their professional purpose and avoid seeking advice from charlatans, particularly gurus touting an ability to predict the future.
How can educational leaders keep pace with the world around them and still continue to grow and create schools that prepare students for a purposeful life? Whom should they read, watch or listen to?
1. Read Wired magazine
This sixteen-year-old magazine has been around for about as long as the World Wide Web and survived years of hubris followed by the dotcom bubble. Wired covers all aspects of the digital world. Even its articles about kids, learning and education are thoughtful.
Gone is the "We are smarter than you" tone of its early days. Wired now has adult supervision and is a terrifi c way of keeping up with the exciting ways in which our world is changing. A twelve-month subscription costs as little as $10.
2. Attend TED (virtually)
In 1984, an intimate annual conference was held in Monterey, Calif. Th e TED Conference (Technology, Entertainment, Design) was a place where scientists, artists, world leaders and cultural icons came together to share powerful ideas. TED is expensive and exclusive; however, they have begun distributing high-quality video podcasts of presentations recorded throughout its history. You can subscribe to the series via RSS and watch them on your computer or iPod whenever you need a dose of inspiration. TED Talks by Sir Ken Robinson, Al Gore, Dave Eggers and Majora Carter are fantastic. Experts who commit their lives to doing one thing, even a small thing, extremely well, inspire me.
3. Attend Pop!Tech
Pop!Tech is similar to TED and is held each fall in Camden, Maine. Each year Pop!Tech is organized around a particular theme. Pop!Tech has also begun making video podcasts of its presentations available for free download.
4. Read Angelo Patri
The recent republication of Angelo Patri's book A Schoolmaster of the Great City: A Progressive Education Pioneer's Vision for Urban Schools (New Press, 2007) is a must-read! Patri emigrated to the United States from Italy in the late 19th century and went on to become a teacher and principal. First published in 1917, Patri's book describes the challenges still facing schools today and offers compelling solutions.
5. Watch more TV with your staff
Play an episode of CNBC's Mad Money, Good Eats from the Food Network or even The Apprentice and ask teachers to identify lessons for improving their practice.
6. Escape your school
Join a club. Rekindle a hobby. Attend a lecture series. Explore your community's cultural offerings. Work with kids in a nonschool setting. Read a good book. Enriching your own life is sure to make you a better educator.