Books

As I’ve found out the hard way, you can waste a lot of time reading books on education. Most should be short magazine articles, but get turned into long, repetitive books, probably to burnish academic credentials. In the past year, I’ve read close to 100 books on education, almost all quite forgettable. There have been a few highlights, though, including:

I’ll start with something shamelessly self-serving.  Tony Wagner and I wrote a book called Most Likely to Succeed, Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era, which you can order here.

Taking self-serving one level further, I have a book coming out next April called What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America. You can pre-order it here.

If I could have written just one book on education, I wish it had been The Global Achievement Gap: Why Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need — And What We Can Do About It. Tony Wagner did, and it’s a fabulous “must-reading” book. Once you get past the awkward title, it’s worth taking in every word.  And Tony has followed this initial very well-received work with Creating Innovators, another must read for anyone interested in education.

John Holt has written a whole series of thought-provoking books on education. You might start with How Children Fail or How Children Learn. Together, these books have sold more than 1.5 million copies. A third interesting title is Instead of Education: Ways to Help People Do Things Better. Even if you think traditional schools are doing a great job, you should read one of these books. In the same vein as Holt, former New York State teacher of the year John Taylor Gatto has written two radical, but thought-provoking, books — Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling and Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. Fortunately, the books are more concise than the titles.

Carol Dweck’s Mindset will change your view about how to talk to your child about anything he/she achieves, as well as how you can help them realize that hard work, not natural talent, is the way to accomplish things in life.  This book is profound.

Once you pick up Daniel Pink’s book Drive, you won’t put it down.  It’s valuable for any parent, boss, or coach, and will shake your views of what really motivates people.

Alan November has written a very readable book called Who Owns The Learning?  He makes a great case for educators to step back and let the students take more responsibility for setting their learning agenda, with some great anecdotes from a long career in teaching.  He also makes some very concrete and specific ways to shift classroom experiences, and use technology in a thoughtful way in educating kids.

Denise Clark Pope of Stanford’s School of Education has written a great book, Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students.

While not about the classroom, Jim Thompson has written an absolutely-amazing book called Positive Coaching: Building Character and Self-Esteem Through Sports. This book made me a better coach, parent, and boss.

Of the very large number of books on parenting I read when our kids were quite young, the best was Parenting with Dignity, by Mac Bledsoe (parent of former NFL quarterback Drew Bledsoe). Every parent, teacher, and school leader should read this book.

Steve Brill’s Class Warfare does a brilliant job of chronicling our efforts to reform education, including the devastating impact of Federal programs like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

Since many families torture their kids in pursuit of the Holy Grail of getting into the “right” college, you should read Jacques Steinberg’s The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College. Whatever your strategy on college for your kid, this book will be an eye-opener.

One of the most coherent voices on education today belongs to Deborah Stipek, Dean of Stanford’s School of Education. Definitely read Motivated Minds: Raising Children to Love Learning, co-authored by Kathy Seal.

While a biography of Steve Jobs (by Walter Isaacson) may seem out of place here, it’s a great look at what’s required to get things done. Jobs pointed to his fourth grade teacher who, for him, was the difference between success and jail. He dropped out of Reed College, but spent a year there with the freedom to take whatever he was interested in, and that proved invaluable. And he spent his entire career on what he called the corner of “Technology Street and Liberal Arts Street.”

A short, but powerful, book that you should read is Alfie Kohn’s The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools.  And Anya Kamenetz has a thought-provoking new book out on testing called The Test:  Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing — But You Don’t Have To Be.