What books or publications shaped the way you think about schools and teaching?
February 8, 2005 5:26 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to build a library on education issues, especially alternative education and private schools. I'm skipping the dry or textbook-y stuff. What books or publications shaped the way you think about schools and teaching? [mi]

a) I'm part of a group that's working on building a rather shapeless, fledgling private school into something with a vision and a real rationale behind it. Consequently, isn't-public-school-awful books aren't needed. Books that might inspire a positive set of ideas would be very useful.

b) Been reading: John Taylor Gatto, Kieran Egan, Alfie Kohn, William Glasser, Christopher Alexander, Lady Allen of Hurtwood (beat that for obscure). But I might have missed their best works.

c) Periodicals or websites also welcome.
posted by argybarg to Education (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Technopoly by Neil Postman has a section on education, stemming from the simple question "why are all semesters for all courses always the same length?"

Postman has written a few other books in the same vein, but I can't comment on whether they might be useful.
posted by Ritchie at 5:42 PM on February 8, 2005

Not sure if this is what you want -- these are less about issues than personal stories -- but I've been inspired by numerous books about teachers who do their best against daunting odds. They happen to all be in public schools, but I would think any teacher would benefit from reading them.

Small Victories, the story of how Jessica Siegel works furiously to get her diverse group of NY students interested in journalism, college and life.

Among Schoolchildren, Tracy Kidder's marvelous look at a grade school teacher in Holyoke, Mass.

Mrs. Moffett's First Year, the story of a legal secretary turned teacher through the NYC Teaching Fellows program.
posted by GaelFC at 6:27 PM on February 8, 2005

The Well-Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise is an excellent book on the classical model of education. It's aimed more at home education, but it gives a great overview of the philosophy and methodology of classical education, and has been used to good success by private schools. It also lists out curriculum recommendations for every grade level and topic. If you liked John Taylor Gatto's commentary, you might like WTM, although it's less alarmist and, in my opinion, more cogent. It's available at most decent libraries, if you want to try before you buy. (Full disclosure: Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise are friends of mine, but I in no way benefit from recommending that book. I genuinely think it might be of use to you.)

If you're looking to develop a vision, you might consider one of the various networks that helps private school administrators. They usually have conferences in the summertime. The only one I know of offhand is the ACCS, but that might completely miss the mark of what you're looking for. If that is in the right vein, they have a conference coming up in June in Memphis. The point stands, though, that there are orgs that support and develop schools, like yours, that are looking for structure and vision.

My best friend taught for a while at a fledgling private school, and I know he would say that getting some core parents involved is crucial. Also, develop a vision and don't try to make the school "corporate." And, grow slowly. FWIW.

If any of what I noted is of any interest (no offense if it isn't), feel free to e-mail me (address in profile) with any other questions you think I might be able to help you with.
posted by Alt F4 at 7:23 PM on February 8, 2005

Isn't grumblebee a teacher? You might e-mail him.
posted by Alt F4 at 7:26 PM on February 8, 2005

Japanese Lessons, about an American anthropologist and her kids going to school in Japan, was eye-opening in the way that the contrasts between the two school systems emphasize the values they are based on. I mention it because it was a good book, and because seeing how different values play out in school structure and activities may help bring out the best aspects of each. It's well-written and falls in the happy area that is neither fluff nor dense.
posted by whatzit at 8:03 PM on February 8, 2005

My aunt is a practioner of Precision Teaching . I experienced some of it while I was younger (i.e. guinea pig du jour). More info on it here.

I had the pleasure of knowing its creator Og Lindsley and, sadly, attending his memorial service late last year. So, there's my disclosure of personal interest taken care of.
posted by sillygit at 8:19 PM on February 8, 2005

Harpers had a great article on public school awhile ago. I think this is it.
posted by scazza at 8:26 PM on February 8, 2005

36 Children, by Herbert Kohl (he was a public school teacher but had a lot of interesting methods).

Black Water, by Kersten Ekman.

Professionalism and Community (Loiuse, Kruse, et al, eds, Corwin, 1995) has a really great article about professional community at a school in New York called Metro Academy, which seemed pretty awesome.
posted by mai at 8:28 PM on February 8, 2005

And I know you've said "Consequently, isn't-public-school-awful books aren't needed," but the article is really very good.
posted by scazza at 8:28 PM on February 8, 2005

Incidentally, that Harper's article is one of the things that inspired me to want to become a teacher. And I am now studying to be one. So I recommend it.
posted by mai at 8:29 PM on February 8, 2005

I teach in a public school and use Project Wild a lot for Ecology and Ethics classes....a lot of hands on, outdoor, building projects. It spans multiple grade levels and has extensions for most projects.
posted by aedra at 8:30 PM on February 8, 2005

Paolo Friere is my #1 alternative education guy and Pedagogy of the Oppressed gives a whole new perspective into looking at the educational interactive process and it's not just "blah blah public school sucks" though it is critical of traditional education. I also think the entire Foxfire series presents a positive and yet alternative way of looking at how we learn and the question of "what is knowledge"
posted by jessamyn at 9:15 PM on February 8, 2005

Read up on A.S. Neill and Summerhill, as well as material on Sudbury schools.
posted by u.n. owen at 9:51 PM on February 8, 2005

Speaking of Harper's, I cited this article in a long ago thread, which was later developed into this book. I was a teacher in a program for first-generation/economically disadvantaged college students for several years, and it was my inspiration literature.

If you want to get some historical perspective, John Dewey was the father of progressive education in America, and his books are still powerful and highly influential. Good luck in your studies.
posted by melissa may at 10:26 PM on February 8, 2005

Lies My Teacher Told Me concerns itself with history and social studies and is pretty much what you'd expect from the title.
In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig deconstructs the assumptions upon which Western education is based and offers some proposals for revamping it. I don't agree with everything he has to say, but this book really is fucking amazing.
Noam Chomsky's Understanding Power is actually just a series of transcripts of Q&A sessions with Chomsky over about a ten year period, but he does talk about going from a Dewey-ist high school to a mainstream "over achievers" institution, the socialization experience at Harvard, and some other related subjects.
posted by Clay201 at 7:27 AM on February 9, 2005

I went to the Evergreen State College which is a fairly progressive liberal arts school in the Northwest. Check out the links under their Curriculum section on their studies page for some ideas. I think many could be applied to a private grade- or high school. Since the College prides itself on its pedagogy (and governance structure) we often found ourselves with books on the subject in reading lists for all sorts of programs.

Some highlights:
Paolo Freire: Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
bell hooks: Teaching to Transgress.
Donald L. Finkel and William Ray Arney: Educating for Freedom: The Paradox of Pedagogy. Written by two Evergreen Professors and includes examples of their different pedagogical styles at the College. It's an excellent examination of the importance of both the institutional and personal perspective on pedagogy and how they intersect.
Don Finkel, again: Teaching With Your Mouth Shut.
Ivan Illich: De-schooling Society. You can also find some of his writing online. Go Ivan!

In doing some googles for the titles and authors above I came across a couple of nice bookstore pages: check out this Pedagogy of Freedom page. And, Powells has a pretty deep education section for browsing as well (check out the left-hand navigation).

Evergreen also had an enthographer come in (a long while ago) and do a study on the school and it's practice. I think this was published internally, but if you were curious there may be a way to get it through library channels. Though somewhat outdated, it is still an interesting read as the study analyzes theory versus practice and the myths that are necessary to it.
posted by safetyfork at 7:38 AM on February 9, 2005

PS. If you want some more reflections on that experience my email is in the profile. By the way, they really did try to teach me not to make this mistake: "on the school and it's practice."
posted by safetyfork at 7:42 AM on February 9, 2005

I'm sending you directly to some schools - books are great (heartily second the Summerhill books, dated as they are) but it's also a good idea to talk to people who have been there. This is a school I'm familiar with; I really like their model of education and I think they have a lot of background material available. Also, the staff would be more than happy to talk to you. You might want to check into Waldorf too - and here's another school which grew out of a frustration with the public school system: my daughter was in one of their first graduating classes and they are still going strong. Good luck! It's a lot of work but well worth it.
posted by mygothlaundry at 10:21 AM on February 9, 2005

For the dissent on Waldorf, here's a controversial Salon article on the subject.
posted by scazza at 8:17 PM on February 10, 2005

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