The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way


I recommend the book The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley.

The book explores secondary education in three countries that Ripley dubs “education superpowers” based on their PISA scores:  Finland, South Korea, and Poland.  She focuses particularly on the experiences of three American teenagers who spend a year studying in these countries as exchange students.

I do have some caveats. I’m actually pretty uncomfortable with the title and its underlying assumption that “smart” can be measured by scores on a standardized test, even one that seems to be more nuanced and sophisticated than those that US students are accustomed to taking.  Also, I can’t say that I am convinced by her final recommendations for improving American education.

But I’m recommending the book anyway, because it was highly readable and engaging, educated me about cultures and educational practices that are foreign to me, and challenged me to think differently.

—Dr. Helen Bittel, faculty

Dr. Bittel teaches Children’s Literature, Young Adult Literature, and Victorian Literature. She shares articles and blogs about education regularly on her personal Facebook page, so follow her there if the subject interests you!

The Divine Matrix

A book I recommend is The Divine Matrix: Bridging Time, Miracles and Belief by Gregg Braden. Braden argues that the laws of physics parallel the laws of metaphysics. And there lies the intrigue! Beginning with a reader-friendly explanation of several fundamental laws of physics, Braden then explains how these laws reflect the fundamental principles of Eastern spirituality. The science supports the theory that human existence is based on a spiritual matrix. Reading is believing!


–Dr. Deborah Brassard

Dr. Deborah Brassard earned her B.A. degree from Boston University , her M.A. from Boston College, and her Ph.D. from Purdue University. Her area of specialization is modern British and American literature with a focus on metaphysics. Students enjoy intense discussions in her Mystical Writers course. 

The Empathy Exams: Essays

I recommend the book The Empathy Exams: Essays, by Leslie Jamison

At first, this set of essays focuses on Jamison’s job as an actor portraying patients with various illnesses for medical-school students to practice examination and diagnosis and treatment plans. That’s fascinating in itself, because the “patients” also come with cultural, economic, and family issues. But as the book goes on, Jamison takes us places to which she has traveled, her first experience with wine (given to her by her mother), and the “Morgellons” (Google that now—you won’t believe your eyes!).

Jamison bookWhy should you read this book? There’s a quote from the writer Mary Karr on the cover. In part, it reads: “…This riveting book will make you a better human.” Don’t we all want to be that????

–Dr. Agnes Cardoni, faculty

Dr. Cardoni teaches Medicine & Literature, Contemporary American Poetry, and methods courses for English-Secondary Education majors. On her syllabi, she tells her students, “I am glad you are here.”

Same Kind of Different As Me

I recommend the book Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. Hall was a wealthy art dealer from Texas when he and his wife met Moore, a homeless man born in Louisiana. This account of their friendship and the challenges they faced together is written in chapters that alternate between the two perspectives. It is a powerful story of mutual respect and self-sacrifice.


–Sister Christine Mihelich, faculty

Sr. Christine Mihelich teaches both first year and upper-level courses. She specializes in drama, and students also enjoy her course on Faith in Literature.