Dr. Bruce Powell has spent over 50 years in education. Along with helping to found three Los Angeles Jewish high schools, he served as the first head of school at de Toledo High School for nearly two decades.
Now in retirement, he’s put out his first book, “Raising A+ Human Beings: Crafting a Jewish School Culture of Academic Excellence and AP Kindness,” which he co-authored with Fingerhut Professor of Education at American Jewish University Dr. Ron Wolfson.
The book provides guidance for educators on how to create a school culture that is based on Jewish values. “We’re helping people figure out how to use the book to inculcate a culture of kindness into their schools,” said Powell. “You’d think that was a normal thing that most schools do. It mostly is, but sometimes it’s not and they need a little boost.”
In the opening chapter, Powell reflects on his experience talking to a room of girls who were stressed out about finals. To calm them down, he talked about how when he was in high school, he received a D in chemistry, which meant he would be disqualified from attending his dream school.
He wrote that he then said, “I realized that not everyone can be an A student in chemistry but that through good deeds, loyal friendship and treating others with dignity, I could indeed be an A+ human being.”
Powell continued with his speech, “It seems to me that every girl in this room is an A+ human being even if you are not an A+ student in every subject. So, has anyone done a good deed today? Has anyone brought joy to a friend? If so, you are an A+ person, so stop worrying about grades. Study hard, but always know that life and friends will judge you on the grades that do not appear on your transcript. Please be A+ human beings every day.”
This anecdote sets the tone and style for the book, which is full of Powell’s experiences. Since there is such pressure to do well in academics, he tries to relieve the burden for students by telling them to go beyond only what they are capable of doing.
“Kids discover that they are created in the image of God, and it’s our job as educators to find out what their gift is and help them excel with it.” – Dr. Bruce Powell
“It’s a tremendous relief for kids,” he said. “Kids discover that they are created in the image of God, and it’s our job as educators to find out what their gift is and help them excel with it.”
Another important concept that the book discusses is the idea of having a circle of friends rather than a clique. “A circle of friends is a secure group of people who will let anyone in,” Powell said he tells ninth grade students. “A clique is an insecure group that won’t let anyone in.”
According to Wolfson, the lessons from the book could be applicable not only to Jewish organizations in general, but the culture at large. “When you think of how common it is for people to retreat to their own cliques and not leave a space for new people to come in, it really is a metaphor for what’s happening in society right now,” he said.
So far, Wolfson said the book has been a tremendous success. Typically, the benchmark for a bestselling book in the Jewish world is selling 3,000 copies within two years. “Raising A+ Human Beings” has been out since March, and it’s already sold 4,000 copies.
“It’s an indication that not only has the book been well received, but schools and congregations and other groups have adopted it so everyone can read it together and see how to apply these principles.”
With the overall theme of the book, Powell hopes that students learn how they can excel in kindness – and make the world a better place.
“They need to understand that SAT scores or being the best is not going to define their life,” he said. “What’ll define their life are the beautiful, kind things they do for people. That’s how they can make an impact and contribution to the world.”