From China to the neighborhood down the street, parents and educators around the world are continually pondering the best environments, teaching methods and curricula for today’s young people. To guide their decisions, we’re highlighting five recent and upcoming books that reflect some of the most interesting approaches to improving the educational experience.
Public, private, charter, online, home, magnet—the list goes on. With so many educational options, how do parents choose the best one for their child? Luckily, Kevin Leman, a psychologist and author of more than 50 books on parenting and relationships, offers Education a la Carte: Choosing the Best Schooling Options for Your Child. This no-nonsense guide discusses the possible benefits of each kind of school environment and focuses on finding the right fit for each child.
Leman will ease parents’ tension as he addresses typical concerns and shows how learning styles, birth order and parenting styles all factor into the decision process. Additional chapters cover topics such as preschool and kindergarten readiness, homework and grades. No matter the subject, Leman encourages parents to keep realistic expectations and to motivate with approval rather than criticism.
Liberal arts majors are often the punchline of jokes. In You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education, Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling author George Anders reveals that liberal arts majors are overtaking jobs once reserved for graduates with computer science and business degrees. He highlights the irony that, as tech fields become increasingly dependent on automation, the need for the human touch has never been more essential.
Anders explains how liberal arts majors offer valuable critical thinking skills and gives examples of individuals whose liberal arts degrees took them down unexpected paths. For instance, Bess Yount, who holds a sociology degree, is on Facebook’s sales and marketing team, and Stewart Butterfield, a philosophy major, now runs Slack Technologies. While the book is geared toward recent grads, even career switchers can benefit from the job strategies and insight into the dozens of major companies actively recruiting liberal arts majors. Above all, Anders shows that success is rarely a straight line.
WEST MEETS EAST
When Chinese-American journalist Lenora Chu and her husband took jobs in Shanghai, they eagerly enrolled their 3-year-old son, Rainey, in Soong Qing Ling, an elite “kindergarten” that would instill academic drive seemingly missing in the U.S. The author discovered that while Rainey outpaced his American counterparts in math and language, he was also subjected to harsh discipline, propaganda and extreme competition. The latter even led to bribery, with Chu finding herself gifting Coach purses in exchange for school opportunities.
Struck by these differences, Chu was curious about the Chinese education system. The result is Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve. Mixing personal anecdotes, observations of Chinese classrooms, interviews with parents and students and thought-provoking facts about Chinese education, the author reveals how yingshi jiaoyu—high-stakes testing—has created a culture of stress and conformity. Although Chinese schools have been influenced to some degree by Western ideals, such as creativity and independence, she notes that, ironically, American schools increasingly emphasize test taking. In the end, Chu lets readers consider what skills a 21st-century student needs and offers insight on the future of global education.
TEACHERS, BREATHE EASY
As British educator Katherine Weare reminds readers, schools are busy, pressured environments where teachers and students are often more concerned with the future than enjoying the present moment of learning. Weare and co-author Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and international peace activist, also recognize that teachers typically focus on others’ needs over their own. Their secular collaboration, Happy Teachers Change the World: A Guide for Cultivating Mindfulness in Education, brings mindfulness to teachers and students.
Essays from Nhat Hanh set a reassuring mood to prepare for mindfulness exercises, while the second part of the book explains ties between these techniques and valuable education traits. Weare also addresses best practices and shows how mindfulness can be integrated in specific curriculum areas. Once comfortable with these practices, teachers can move on to suggestions for cultivating mindfulness across school communities.
Even after experiencing burnout his first year of teaching, Timothy D. Walker, a contributing writer on education issues for The Atlantic, still espoused that good teachers “don’t do short workdays” but rather “push themselves—to the limit.” That is, until he relocated to his Finnish wife’s home country to teach elementary school. While educators around the world have recognized Finland’s consistent top scores in reading, math and science on international tests, the author was instead struck by how joy was prioritized in Finnish schools.
In Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms, Walker offers realistic tips on creating joyful schools, arranged according to five “ingredients” of happiness: well-being, belonging, autonomy, mastery and mindset. From scheduling brain breaks to cultivating a community of adults who share responsibility for a child to discussing grades so students can reflect on their learning, the tips are prefaced with lively anecdotes from the author’s own classroom experiences and often reveal how he overcame American biases to embrace them. While some strategies may need to be adapted to individual schools, they all highlight how we can learn to value happiness more than achievement.