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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Some Good News: Insight, Boys

Last Week We Talked About Testing, Lost Friends: Hard Things, This Week Is Different

I promised to talk about an individual voice amidst the pressure of conformity. Well I have two good examples for this week. I heard the first last week while driving — an intereview on Fresh Air. Did any of you catch Terry Gross speaking with Gilian Tett? If not, here it is as a podcast, along with an excerpt from Tett’s new book: Fool’s Gold: Tett is a journalist on the Financial Times, indeed she won the award as journalist of the year in England. Her book is a case study of JP Morgan Chase as a way to understand the global economic crisis. Fascinating, you might say wearing your hat as an adult trying to make sense of the mess, but what does this have to do with children, books, and our nonfiction?

Here is the connection. Ever since 2004, Tett had been writing that there was something amiss in the world we have come to hear about all too often: credit default swaps, derivatives, shadow banking. She was vilified, attacked — by 2006 when the banks doing this sort of trading were riding high, she was insulted, brow beaten — all of the evidence seemed on the side of the banks: they were making money hand over fist, the world agreed with them. What was her problem? Did she simply not get it? The other journalists covering banking who were smart enough to understand the trades were quickly offered much more lucrative jobs working for the banks. In fact Tett does not have a background in finance at all. And that is where this story leads to us.

Gillian Tett is an anthropologist. She did her field work in Tadjikistan. She is trained in listening not just for the stories people want to tell, the official phrases and ideas, but for the hidden narratives they do not want known. She treated the world of banking as yet another anthropological field trip. And so she saw the flaws, the gaps, the risks ignored in the giddy froth. Then she told the world. 

Tett’s story tells me, yet again, that we need to train our children to think, and to question. The social sciences — when seen as an approach to knowledge — are as important as numbers crunching economics. We cannot let ourselves be brow beaten by testing, so called measurable achievement. We have to speak up for training in undestanding people, understanding societies, looking for what is unsaid as well as what is expressed. Gillian Tett knew that, and she saw what was invisible to (or denied by) so many others. She is the shining example of what we want to create in students — the truth teller who sees the emperor naked. 

Next post another success story — from the boys reading club Deb started in Florida.