Like educators and students across the U.S., folks here at EdSurge are enjoying a holiday (and publishing) break during the last week of 2022. But we couldn’t bear to leave you without some worthwhile reading and listening material during this wintery week, filled with short days and long nights.
So our reporters and editors have been reflecting on the articles, books and podcasts that have resonated with us most this year and we’re sharing them with you. This collection includes selections related to education and some that reach far beyond the classroom. Enjoy!
I read about the child care crisis to learn more about the lived experiences of early childhood professionals, the pain points families encounter and the challenges facing our youngest learners. The article “America’s Child-Care Equilibrium Has Shattered,” published in The Atlantic by Elliot Haspel, offers an insightful overview of the crisis, why child care work is so devalued and the need for investment in the child care workforce—which Haspel says “means finally giving child-care providers the recognition and compensation they have long deserved.”
I also learned a lot from this Scientific American article, “U.S. Kids Are Falling behind Global Competition, but Brain Science Shows How to Catch Up,” which looks at how and why paid family leave and high-quality child care are linked to brain development. It calls out a gap between what science says young children need and what U.S. policy provides and drives home the need to let scientific evidence guide policies and practices.
Outside of education, I’ve been enjoying the work of Liana Finck, a cartoonist and illustrator who regularly contributes to The New Yorker. I find her cartoons, which are often an interpretation of human nature and behavior, fascinating and witty. The opening to this essay, penned by Finck, sheds some light on why I find her work so entertaining. “A single-panel cartoon is a joke in drawing form: you start with a set-up, then add a punchline. The set-up has to be something most of your readers will recognize, so that they’ll get the joke,” she writes. This year, I’ve been in need of something a bit playful and Finck has delivered.
I’ve been interested in how housing insecurity affects education. My interest was grabbed, therefore, by this thoughtfully composed piece in Chalkbeat, “Hidden toll: Thousands of schools fail to count homeless students.” With an impressive trawl through the data and an exploration of some of the related issues, the writers, Amy DiPierro and Corey Mitchell, do a good job spelling out how families like the Petersens are “invisible.”
Another one: Colleges are facing down an “enrollment cliff” as the pool of college-age students shrinks, a long-delayed reverberation of the Great Recession. I was struck by the tight argumentation in the recent Vox essay, “The incredible shrinking future of college,” written by New America’s Kevin Carey. Carey argues that the decline in attendance at colleges—especially in post-industrial areas in the Northeast and Midwest—may create “ghost colleges.” The result won’t be good for a lot of those towns.
If you’re looking for something outside of education, I’d recommend Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities,” which cycles through a series of graceful, imaginary conversations between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. I had a chance to reread it recently, and it helped me think through what it means to live in a city. I’ve really gotten a lot out of Calvino, who’s criminally underread. Maybe you will, too. Plus, it’s mercifully short.
I can recall little else that moved me this year the way the Washington Post story, “An American Girl,” did. The story by John Woodrow Cox follows 10-year-old Uvalde survivor Caitlyne Gonzales as she seeks to heal from the horrors of the May massacre she witnessed in her elementary school classroom. It is not a comfortable read, but it’s a necessary one, reminding us that while some have the luxury of putting such pain and suffering out of our minds, others are forced to relive it every day.
I also enjoyed listening to “Where’s My Village?,” a limited podcast series from Fortune, about the child care crisis in America and efforts to fix it. Each episode touched on themes and even specific people and programs that we’ve covered in our own reporting on early childhood, but I loved the way the series paints a complete picture for listeners and really pulls in voices from all affected parties: providers, educators, policymakers, parents, employers. If you have some long drives ahead or some cleaning to do this winter, it’s a worthwhile listen.
Outside the realm of education, I can’t seem to stop telling anyone who will listen what I learned from “Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family,” a nonfiction book by journalist Robert Kolker. The book goes deep inside a family with 12 children from Colorado Springs, six of whom will eventually be diagnosed with schizophrenia, and all of whom will help inform research and science about the mental illness over several decades.
I’ve been accused more than once of never seeming to watch or read anything “light,” and as I write these recommendations, I’m beginning to understand why … .
I highly enjoyed the Houston Chronicle’s deep dive into book banning at Texas schools with the attention-grabbing headline “Most efforts to ban books in Texas schools came from 1 politician and GOP pressure, not parents.”
Reporters made an eye-popping 600 public information requests to school districts in their efforts to find out which books were coming under scrutiny. Spoiler: most of them dealt with LGBTQ or racial equity issues. (As someone who used to fight with city governments over public records, I like to imagine the Chron reporters buying antacids in bulk to deal with all the heartburn.)
Every part of the story was fascinating (experts say removing books that deal with tough issues does more harm than good) or brought something new to light (one San Antonio school district has removed 119 books). It’s a great example of how data can be used to cut though the political haze and put a situation in stark repose.
Do you love history? Do you love puppets? If you said yes to either, you should definitely check out Puppet History. The webshow has covered a veritable buffet of topics from the Great Molasses Flood of Boston to the amazing lifestyle of the world’s richest man ever, Mansa Musa of the Mali Empire. I never knew that I wanted history facts delivered in the form of a game show hosted by a blue puppet dressed in an American Girl Doll explorer outfit. Or that I needed to hear songs from an anthropomorphic pile of diamonds from a necklace allegedly commissioned by Marie Antoinette in 1785. It’s also the perfect thing to put on in the background while cooking.
In education news, I learned a lot about the aspirations of people who run home-based early childhood programs—and the challenges they’re faced with—from reading this Washington Post article: “In Texas, child-care providers are returning to a broken system.” The story, by Casey Parks, follows BriTanya Bays as she tries to make ends meet while recruiting families to send their children to her program, Our Loving Village.
Perhaps it’s the lingering loneliness of the pandemic that has led me to read novels with huge casts of characters this year. If you’re also seeking the joy and jostle of community, I recommend: “Deacon King Kong” by James McBride, “Everything is Illuminated” by Jonathan Safran Foer and “Midnight’s Children” by Salman Rushdie.
It’s difficult to capture the strange vibe in classrooms these days. That seems especially true on college campuses. A few months ago an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education managed to give a sweeping look at what some professors see as a “stunning” level of student disengagement in all types of higher ed institutions. The reporter who led the story, Beth McMurtrie, smartly put out a call for professors to share their stories, and more than 100 did. They describe students who are struggling to make it to classes or to focus if they do attend. And younger students, who had their last years of high school disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the remote instruction it forced, seem especially prone to struggle. The article inspired me to do an episode of the EdSurge Podcast where I visited a campus to describe the disengagement in large lecture classes and let listeners hear from students and professors struggling with these issues.
Beyond the realm of education, my favorite book of the year has been “The Candy House,” by Jennifer Egan. It’s my kind of sci-fi, where a futuristic tech idea serves as a background reality, but it’s not the main focus. In this case, the novel is set in a near-future where a Silicon Valley startup sells a product that lets anyone capture their memories and share them into a digital collective. A few holdouts refuse to participate, but the lure is irresistible to most, since the arrangement is that you can only see the memories of others (even their memories of you) if you share all of your own consciousness. The characters don’t talk that much about this product (called “Own Your Unconscious”) but it infuses the plot anyway, and the result is a timely riff on how to achieve authenticity in an era of social media.