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Learning by Heart: An Unconventional Education

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"A page turner. With candor and clarity, Tony Wagner tells the story of his remarkable life and, in so doing, tells the story of our education system." --Angela Duckworth, Founder and CEO, Character Lab, and New York Times bestselling author of Grit One of the world's top experts on education delivers an uplifting memoir on his own personal failures and successes as he soug "A page turner. With candor and clarity, Tony Wagner tells the story of his remarkable life and, in so doing, tells the story of our education system." --Angela Duckworth, Founder and CEO, Character Lab, and New York Times bestselling author of Grit One of the world's top experts on education delivers an uplifting memoir on his own personal failures and successes as he sought to become a good learner and teacher. Tony Wagner is an eminent education specialist: he has taught at every grade level from high school through graduate school; worked at Harvard; done significant work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and speaks across the country and all over the world. But before he found his success, Wagner was kicked out of middle school, expelled from high school, and dropped out of two colleges. Learning by Heart is his powerful account of his years as a student and teacher. After struggling in both roles, he learned to create meaningful learning experiences despite the constraints of conventional schooling--initially for himself and then for his students--based on understanding each student's real interests and strengthening his or her intrinsic motivations. Wagner's story sheds light on critical issues facing parents and educators today, and reminds us that trial and error, resilience, and respect for the individual, are at the very heart of all teaching and learning.


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"A page turner. With candor and clarity, Tony Wagner tells the story of his remarkable life and, in so doing, tells the story of our education system." --Angela Duckworth, Founder and CEO, Character Lab, and New York Times bestselling author of Grit One of the world's top experts on education delivers an uplifting memoir on his own personal failures and successes as he soug "A page turner. With candor and clarity, Tony Wagner tells the story of his remarkable life and, in so doing, tells the story of our education system." --Angela Duckworth, Founder and CEO, Character Lab, and New York Times bestselling author of Grit One of the world's top experts on education delivers an uplifting memoir on his own personal failures and successes as he sought to become a good learner and teacher. Tony Wagner is an eminent education specialist: he has taught at every grade level from high school through graduate school; worked at Harvard; done significant work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and speaks across the country and all over the world. But before he found his success, Wagner was kicked out of middle school, expelled from high school, and dropped out of two colleges. Learning by Heart is his powerful account of his years as a student and teacher. After struggling in both roles, he learned to create meaningful learning experiences despite the constraints of conventional schooling--initially for himself and then for his students--based on understanding each student's real interests and strengthening his or her intrinsic motivations. Wagner's story sheds light on critical issues facing parents and educators today, and reminds us that trial and error, resilience, and respect for the individual, are at the very heart of all teaching and learning.

30 review for Learning by Heart: An Unconventional Education

  1. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    If you are an educator, a parent, or someone who is interested in the educational process, this is a wonderful read, one of my favorites of the year so far. The odds were stacked against Tony. His teachers told him he would be a failure but he made his own way, after getting kicked out of private schools and dropping out of two colleges before finding a unique Quaker college opportunity where he could customize his course of study. He then was able to get a Masters and later a Doctorate of Educat If you are an educator, a parent, or someone who is interested in the educational process, this is a wonderful read, one of my favorites of the year so far. The odds were stacked against Tony. His teachers told him he would be a failure but he made his own way, after getting kicked out of private schools and dropping out of two colleges before finding a unique Quaker college opportunity where he could customize his course of study. He then was able to get a Masters and later a Doctorate of Education at Harvard. He has taken to heart his struggles in the educational system and turned them to benefit others as a teacher and mentor to other teachers. I appreciate the honesty with which he talks about his struggles, whether it's as a student in grade school or as an adult in finding a meaningful career, sometimes becoming bored as a teacher or not wanting to be a CEO in NYC. Wagner discusses ways in which the goal of a high school diploma geared for college readiness is a broken system, and instead using methods such as a "merit badge" or mastery of skills way of approaching topics, along with developing children's interests. Other aspects of successful classrooms that he studied and put into practice were more discussion time and less lecturing from the teacher, study groups, independent study. Basically, when a person is motivated to learn, they need a teacher to act as a guide to direct them to more resources on the topic and reach mastery - including proper spelling and grammar techniques, but not through rote memorization, drilled in dry facts, or teaching to the test. Tony Wagner relates his childhood education, both in school and out of it. His school education environment was terrible, including being labeled as a fuckup by a teacher – though he did have a couple standup teachers who encouraged him to write and develop that skill. His parents put him through strict private schools with high demands but they never reached his heart with a reason why to learn and cater to the constant tests and sport competitions. For nine months of the year, he had no childhood or free time. Thankfully, his summers had a bright spot with an excellent summer camp where he had a couple of excellent mentors whose wisdom has stuck with him throughout his life. He also relates a couple of experiences with his dad's coworker who visited and took him fishing, something his own father never did. This man also later sent him a transistor radio kit, which Tony struggled with but succeeded in completing on his own. That sense of accomplishment also fostered an interest in how the radio worked, which he researched and learned about on his own. He does a great job of keeping the narrative of his life and search for purpose flowing in a very readable manner. As Wagner then became a teacher, he has decades of retrospection to critique his own initial teaching styles as he developed his teaching philosophy. Even then, as he sought to find a peer community of others who had a similar interest in discussing educational philosophy, he often felt alone in his faculty peer group as he felt thrown into the deep end, unprepared for teaching and wanting in depth discussions to improve his skill. He also talks about how he learned to play guitar as an adult, and struggled to find a guitar teacher that didn't make the experience miserable, even as a motivated adult learner.   I received a free advanced review copy from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Irina Subredu

    "Știam acum că eșecul fundamental al școlii tradiționale consta în incapacitatea profesorilor mei de a mă ajuta să mă înțeleg pe mine și lumea din jur. Dar nu era vina lor. Nimeni nu le spusese că acestea sunt cele mai importante lecții pe care trebuie să le dea mai departe. Nimeni nu îi pregătise pentru o muncă atât de dificilă și de solicitantă. Profesorii nu pot face singuri munca asta. Toți trebuie să jucăm un rol." "Știam acum că eșecul fundamental al școlii tradiționale consta în incapacitatea profesorilor mei de a mă ajuta să mă înțeleg pe mine și lumea din jur. Dar nu era vina lor. Nimeni nu le spusese că acestea sunt cele mai importante lecții pe care trebuie să le dea mai departe. Nimeni nu îi pregătise pentru o muncă atât de dificilă și de solicitantă. Profesorii nu pot face singuri munca asta. Toți trebuie să jucăm un rol."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Molly Kelly

    A really wonderful memoir! I wish he could restructure our entire education system. I was not a great student, but I do love to learn!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Randi

    I connected to much of the author's frustrations as a different type of learner who felt abused, neglected, and rejected by an education system that prizes compliance over individuality and numbers over learning. I wanted to be a teacher for a long time with a similar mission as the author's: to ensure that no other student endured what I did in school. But as an adult, I made a few forays into education and found there more frustrations, more walls, more antagonism against those who thought dif I connected to much of the author's frustrations as a different type of learner who felt abused, neglected, and rejected by an education system that prizes compliance over individuality and numbers over learning. I wanted to be a teacher for a long time with a similar mission as the author's: to ensure that no other student endured what I did in school. But as an adult, I made a few forays into education and found there more frustrations, more walls, more antagonism against those who thought differently, more acceptance with the status quo than interest in changing the system despite clear evidence that it served neither students nor teachers than I did as a child, which is saying a lot. Reading this book filled me with sadness at the thought that so many children are lost to an inhospitable system of education because the system is inhospitable to people who could potentially be great teachers and changemakers in education as well. I admire the author's dedication to creating systemic change in education as a whole, but it seems that little change has actually been implemented on a widespread level, despite his fifty years on this quest. I also felt that although the author shows himself to be a caring and empathetic person, he also has racial, gender, and class biases that he has not addressed that come through in his writing and work, and for this reason, it is difficult to believe in the sincerity of his wish to truly change the system that in the end continues to serve him as an affluent white male.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Suebee

    The author, Tony Wagner, has a doctorate in education from Harvard Graduate School of Education and has held a variety of teaching positions there over 20 years. What makes this interesting is that, similar to Tara Westover in Educated**, he didn't start out as the "success story" you picture when you imagine an Ivy League graduate's childhood. As a child, Tony Wagner did not thrive at a variety of private schools. He flunked out, dropped out, bored out of his mind, not wanting to play the game The author, Tony Wagner, has a doctorate in education from Harvard Graduate School of Education and has held a variety of teaching positions there over 20 years. What makes this interesting is that, similar to Tara Westover in Educated**, he didn't start out as the "success story" you picture when you imagine an Ivy League graduate's childhood. As a child, Tony Wagner did not thrive at a variety of private schools. He flunked out, dropped out, bored out of his mind, not wanting to play the game of "memorize and regurgitate" in traditional school. However, his teenage summers at Mowglis Summer Camp in New Hampshire were where he felt alive, where he found peace in nature and worked towards ribbons in axemanship or the study of Native American culture. As a public school teacher turned homeschool parent, I am hugely interested in educational philosophy and I think Wagner has nailed the fact that students are still bored and disengaged in traditional schools. Traditional school still needs an overhaul. I appreciated the memoir and his sharing of his educational "four goals - to teach students to think critically, to communicate effectively, to work collaboratively, and to strengthen student's capacity for independent study..." The book lost me a little bit in the middle so I found myself speeding through the ending. Below I am sharing some quotes I don't want to forget. - P. 41 "When I was interested in something, and given freedom and encouragement to follow that interest wherever it led, I was an eager learner. Even a good one. [My favorite teachers] conveyed a sense of caring about me as a person. 'Nobody cares how much you know,' the saying goes, ' until they know how much you care.'" - P. 71 "[Alcott Elwell, in his educational dissertation] placed the blame squarely on the demands of the emerging college prep high school curriculum and the lecture method of teaching that it encourages. 'Schools are circumscribed by the college requirements,' he wrote, 'even to those who are not going to college at all.' Elwell believed, as do I, that a predominantly abstract academic curriculum does not prepare the majority of students for meaningful work, lifelong learning, or active and engaged citizenship. Nor does it help students to stay curious about the world or discover their deepest interests." - P. 73 "In my own research on how best to develop young people's creative problem-solving capabilities and prepare them for the innovation era, I've explored the role of play, passion and purpose. Pursuing a purpose - whether social, artistic, or scientific - is, I've realized a form of disciplined adult play. One of the goals of education must be to encourage a new kind of play in school - opportunities to try new things and pursue interests - so that young people can discover their passion and purpose. Without the development of these intrinsic motivations for learning, education is little more than memorization and serving seat time - useless to young people as they go out into today's world." - P. 74 (Quote from Alcott Elwell's dissertation) "Summer camps are helping break down the notion that education is mental discipline; that unless the thing is unpleasantly difficult and abstract, it is no education. It is not what we learn but what we utilize that makes up our ability, and camp is helping to create usable ability...Summer camp, instead of supplementing education, is education - just exactly as the life of the child is not preparation for life at some future time but all there is of life at the present moment." - P. 76 "Looking back, my summers at Mowglis certainly taught me to 'look into the heart of nature.' Equally important, I now see that the camp's emphasis on earning ribbons as evidence of proficiency, along with the scouting movement's merit badge system, contributed significantly to my vision of a high school diploma for the twenty-first century. Rather than being a collection of Carnegie Units, I think a high school diploma could be a certificate of MASTERY - a collection of required and elective merit badges or ribbons that students earn by showing evidence of proficiency in essential skills and content areas." - P. 237 "A father demanded, with a scowl, to know how I was teaching grammar. In a slightly shaky voice, I asserted that there were twenty years of research to show that teaching grammar as a separate subject did not improve writing. My method was to discuss students' written work in conference and go over the common errors I was spotting in student's work when we met as a class." - P. 237 (as a high school English teacher at Sidwell School) "Each week, every student was responsible for bringing in five index cards with words they'd encountered in their reading that they did not know. The cards had to list the dictionary definition of the words, the sentences where they'd encountered them, and a sentence they'd composed using the word. Students then broke up into groups to share and discuss their vocabulary words of the week....I picked the idea up from Sylvia Ashton-Warner's book Teacher." - I also want to remember the idea that he introduced (during some of his middle and high school teaching) of conferencing with his writers once every 1-2 weeks for a 30 minute period. The other periods were meant for students to independently write and read. He also assigned them to write a journal, eventually branching out into encouraging them to experiment with different types of writing - letter to the editor one week, restaurant or movie review the next. **In Tara Westover's "Educated," her education from 5th-12th grade is working with her mother's midwifery and holistic medicine/herbology practice and her father's junk/scrap metal yard. She is neglected (and abused), yet as an adult manages to eventually earn an Ivy League graduate degree.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Whitley

    This memoir grabbed me at the beginning, with the notion, I somehow have journeyed a similar path through pointless school experience, highlighting most of my education, like Tony Wagner's, occurred outside of school. Dr Wagner's memoir offers understanding around his own thoughts about the needed changes in education, and what he writes, consults and speaks about today. This engaging memoir is a must-read for anyone who has or is participating in education, which means almost everyone. This memoir grabbed me at the beginning, with the notion, I somehow have journeyed a similar path through pointless school experience, highlighting most of my education, like Tony Wagner's, occurred outside of school. Dr Wagner's memoir offers understanding around his own thoughts about the needed changes in education, and what he writes, consults and speaks about today. This engaging memoir is a must-read for anyone who has or is participating in education, which means almost everyone.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Siti Mariam

    Learning by Heart: An Unconventional Education is Tony Wagner’s memoir of his learning journey from a misunderstood college drop-out to an exceptional teacher and education consultant. As an educator, I felt like Wagner was writing about my learning journey. I didn’t drop out of any schools but I felt his frustration at the way schools were run and how teachers taught. He may be writing about American schools but he may as well be writing about schools in general. We are still having this debate Learning by Heart: An Unconventional Education is Tony Wagner’s memoir of his learning journey from a misunderstood college drop-out to an exceptional teacher and education consultant. As an educator, I felt like Wagner was writing about my learning journey. I didn’t drop out of any schools but I felt his frustration at the way schools were run and how teachers taught. He may be writing about American schools but he may as well be writing about schools in general. We are still having this debate today: School ready or ready schools? For many generations, students have to fit to the school. Students who don’t, often missed out on the opportunities that they deserve. It is a memoir, and Wagner has written it like a journal, filled with events and reflections. Although it’s about education, one doesn’t need to be an educator to understand what he’s writing about. I enjoyed reading his experiences as an activist in the 60s and 70s, and I guess it’s like a rite of passage for youths growing up in those eras. Learning by Heart: An Unconventional Education by Tony Wagner is a great read if you feel the need to be inspired or simply to walk down memory Lane of American history.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nina

    Slow to warm up for sure. Wagner comes off as egocentric and woe-is-me for the first 50 pages, yet isn't that how we truly are at that age in high school and young adolescence? The writing fits the maturity and as the book progresses he "matures". Admitting failures and looking critically at motivation and decisions and evolving. It is an unconventional education and yet, a journey many are familiar with, self discovery. For those who did not have traumatizing or even unfavorable public school e Slow to warm up for sure. Wagner comes off as egocentric and woe-is-me for the first 50 pages, yet isn't that how we truly are at that age in high school and young adolescence? The writing fits the maturity and as the book progresses he "matures". Admitting failures and looking critically at motivation and decisions and evolving. It is an unconventional education and yet, a journey many are familiar with, self discovery. For those who did not have traumatizing or even unfavorable public school experience, it is illuminating to know that good is fine but better exists. And then you start in with the what ifs. What if I was cultivated in such a way to explore passions, what are even my passions!?!? As they have been smoothed out through college prerequisites and graduation requirement coursework. This book was a stepping stone to dig deeper into the foundations of education, this is a personal piece and yet gives nods to the work of others for further independent study opportunities, the very best way to learn.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    Thank you NetGalley and publishers for an ARC. all opinions are my own. Learning by Heart shares Wagner's story of how he cultivated a love a learning. Not by traditional means, Wagner seeked out interest where it drew him. Where schooling was a struggle, Wagner explains how he was still able to challenge himself in learning. A mix of a biography and informational book, Wagner draws readers in with his life journey supported by facts, that our approach to learning in schools needs an overhaul. Thank you NetGalley and publishers for an ARC. all opinions are my own. Learning by Heart shares Wagner's story of how he cultivated a love a learning. Not by traditional means, Wagner seeked out interest where it drew him. Where schooling was a struggle, Wagner explains how he was still able to challenge himself in learning. A mix of a biography and informational book, Wagner draws readers in with his life journey supported by facts, that our approach to learning in schools needs an overhaul.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Anne

  11. 5 out of 5

    David

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jsedwick

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kat

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kornelija Giedrikaitė

  15. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Kossakoski

  16. 5 out of 5

    Urška Anumanchi

  17. 5 out of 5

    James Klassen

  18. 4 out of 5

    Editura Publica

  19. 4 out of 5

    Nichelle

  20. 5 out of 5

    Stacie

  21. 4 out of 5

    Kindel

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

  23. 5 out of 5

    Francisco

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mariya

  25. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Wiley

  26. 5 out of 5

    Connor Cardinal

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tommy Estlund

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sim

  29. 4 out of 5

    Christina Gagliano

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cristina Balan

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