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Book Review                                             Page 44

 

Creating Innovators  

BookCreatingInnovators

The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World

by Tony Wagner, Scribner, New York, N.Y., 2012, 270 pp. with index, $27 hardcover

In Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, author Tony Wagner asks education leaders to look critically at how schools are organized and how the curriculum is shaped. Then he challenges us to reflect on whether the present and proposed mainstream reforms will take us where we want and need to go as a nation.

Not surprisingly, his answer is no. Throughout his latest book, Wagner discusses models of what we need to do to make formal education systems work better for students.

Through interviews and video vignettes skillfully inserted into the text through the use of QR codes and website links, Wagner provides the evidence of pockets of excellence where students have been encouraged by their parents and/or their teachers (ideally both) to be creative and innovative problem solvers.

After establish the foundational evidence as to why educating for innovation is critically important in an ever-shrinking world, Wagner walks us along the path that will encourage innovative teaching and learning. Several case studies at both the individual and institutional levels display the challenges and benefits of taking the various reform paths. The reader frequently is caught up in the stories of the individuals who overcame institutional obstacles to become the innovators they are today. Certainly, reading how individuals like Ed Carryer’s Smart Design Class and Lab at Stanford University or Richard Miller and his vision-to-reality journey at Olin College in Massachusetts helps us believe such positive change can be accomplished.

While some lessons specifically address K-12 issues (primarily grades 9-12), most of the innovation islands of excellence described relate to postsecondary programs. In this way, Wagner critiques not just precollege preparation for innovators but also university and postgraduate experiences with most of his criticism leveled at university schoolwork. Frankly, I found this a welcomed relief from the constant barrage of criticism that my colleagues in K-12 face, often from the pens of my respected colleagues who populate university and graduate school institutions.

Wagner’s case study/interview format becomes a bit too detailed at times. While some information gleaned from the interviews was relevant, at times the discussions became too lengthy. This overextension was tempered by the QR code video links, but these should be viewed with a word of caution. I read three chapters while on a cross-country flight. The lack of a WiFi connection meant no video playback. Frankly, I am too inundated with work to revisit the chapters and watch the videos.

I jotted down many ideas that I’d like to try in my county to encourage critical thinking, questioning and innovation in students. These things are not difficult to do (science fairs, invention conventions, etc.), nor are they new ideas. They are good tried-and-true practices that may have fallen by the wayside, as we have had to reallocate our time to address the reform agenda of the day. 

Reviewed by Charles V. Khoury, district superintendent, Sole Supervisory District of Ulster County, New Paltz, N.Y.

 

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