Books for Parents and Students

As always, we had a great discussion at the Tuesday Morning Coffee this week. During the course of the conversation we touched on the ever-present topic of understanding our kids (particularly as they go they through the pivotal adolescent years) and equipping them for adulthood. We ended up discussing a few different authors and someone suggested that I compile a list of recommended books. I’m always happy to oblige on this one.

Books on Discernment and Decision Making
The Church has a time-tested means for providing incredibly sound guidance for interpreting our wins and losses (or joys and frustrations) and making sense of them through the discipline of the Ignatian Exercises. How do we navigate through both our day-to-day lives as well as the major life decisions? The question in all things comes down to this: Are we moving towards God or away from God? How and why?

Once we have a good sense of this we can really start to make good decisions in both the big issues and the normal routines of life.

The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living
Tim Gallagher

Father Gallagher is a well known for his retreats, talks and books on discernment (he is also a frequent  guest on EWTN). He is a member of the Oblates of Mary, which is a religious community largely committed to formation around the Ignatian exercises.

You can also find a good primer on the Ignatian Tradition of discernment at

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.
Daniel Pink

This book has received quite a bit of attention for the insights it provides on organizational leadership. Pink makes the case that external factors such as grades, money, etc do little to motivate people beyond doing a basic bare minimum. He argues that the “carrot or stick” model of motivation creates as many problems as it solves. The real motivators for why we do what we do are apparently much deeper. He identifies these motivators as autonomy, mastery and purpose. I find his articulation of autonomy a bit problematic as it tends to be somewhat self-focused. I think however that what he is really trying to move towards is what The Church  understands as authentic human freedom. His treatment of mastery and purpose lines right up with our understanding of Classical learning at The Summit.


The Temperament God Gave You
Art and Laraine Bennett

Art Bennett is a friend and a true Catholic gentlemen. He is also currently the CEO for the Diocese of Arlington’s Catholic Charities. His work draws on the long theological and moral tradition that is seen in the writings of  Francis de Sales and the classic understandings of the four temperaments. The good news for all of us, (as he quotes Fr. Conrad Hock) is that “each temperament is in itself good, and with each one man can do good and work out his salvation.”


Books on Parenting and Families
Jim Stenson has enjoyed a long career as headmaster at The Heights in Potomac, MD and Northridge Prep in Illinois. I’m a tremendous fan of Stenson’s work. I’m also quite thankful that we had his books when our kids were younger. I still go back to a chapter or two every now and then as a refresher on a large variety of topics. He is clear, direct, easy to read and hard to dispute,  yet his work is always profound and revelatory and provides something that is readily applicable in my own family. Any of his books are terrific but I would suggest starting with the following two:

Compass: A Handbook on Parent Leadership

Lifeline: The Religious Upgrading of Your Children


The Temperament God Gave Your Kids: Motivate, Discipline and Love Your Children
Art Bennett

More good work from Art Bennett as he applies his work on temperaments in helping us understand our kids.


Books on Sex and Gender
Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences
Leonard Sax, PhD

Occasionally we’ll get questions concerning the value of single-sex learning in the classroom. Dr. Leonard Sax provides plenty of research that demonstrates the innate differences in men and women, particularly when it comes to the manner in which we learn. Understanding these differences enables us to create a classroom environment in which distinctions are treated as strengths and not limitations.

Girls Uncovered: New Research on What America’s Sexual Culture Does to Young Women
Joe McIlhaney Jr., MD and Freda McKissic Bush, MD

I’m usually not inclined to recommend a book that is quite this heavy on detailing trauma. However, this book is valuable in revealing two ironies. The first is that young people find themselves in an environment in which sex is treated as a nearly sacred human right to be exercised with anyone, at anytime and yet simultaneously also “no big deal.” The second irony is that while women seem to be achieving certain opportunities that had previously been less available they are simultaneously finding themselves in a society that places more unrealistic demands on them which feel like heavier constraints. In both cases there is a latent and unhealthy insistence that both young women and men become more detached from themselves. In order to equip young people who are coming of an age in such an environment it is imperative that we understand these dilemmas.


Books on Education
This section of the list could be quite long and probably deserves it’s own post (in fact I’ll probably do another write up in the future on Newport’s work). For now, I’ll limit this to three authors.

The Idea of a Catholic University
John Garvey

This one isn’t a book just an essay (for the time pressed) but I can’t recommend Garvey enough. As the president of Catholic University he is currently taking on the task of recovering both the academic and religious identity at the school. Garvey is the man for the job.

How to Be a High School Superstar: A Revolutionary Plan to Get into College by Standing Out (Without Burning Out)
Cal Newport

Cal Newport is a Computer Science Professor at Georgetown and apparently did quite well during his time as a student at Dartmouth. His book titles are probably silly enough that he turns off a few teens (or their parents) and some of his anecdotes use a bit of profanity on occasion, (presumably to win back his teen audience). Those disclaimers aside Newport offers some incredible strategies (he calls them study-hacks) for becoming a more effective student . These aren’t simply short cuts for scoring a grade. Newport offers students tools for obtaining real mastery. In addition he presents some research on what it is that makes work satisfying. His advice is that “follow your passion” is generally terrible advice. Instead, students (or anyone who works) that focus on getting really good at something will generally find that they come to love it.

The Closing of the American Mind
Allan Bloom

This book came out when I was in college and it caused quite a stir. Bloom was a Professor at University of Chicago and while academia didn’t exactly appreciate his insider’s critique of the state of higher education the fact remained that the substance of his argument was really quite sound. This book has certainly been responsible for helping to spark the recovery of classical learning that has been growing for the last two decades.



*Don’t forget, if you shop online for these books to purchase them through Amazon Smile and direct a percentage of your spending back towards The Summit Academy!


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