Yesterday, I asked, what is education for? In order to better understand what education is for, and to make room for some expansive thinking – and really, in order to do anything – I turn to books. Before I know what I think, I need to know what others – experts and scientists and journalists and doctors – think. These are my top five education must-reads for fall; each book addresses a particular vision for education that excites or moves me. I hope you’ll join me in reading (or re-reading) this list of highly regarded education think-books. I’ll begin reading the first book, How Children Succeed, on September 15, 2012, if you’d like to join in. After that, we’ll move on down the line until we finish the list!
1. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Power of Character, by Paul Tough. In complete defiance of the popular, near-universal belief that intelligence and cognitive skills determine success in life, Tough’s new book argues that character traits are better predictors of future success. Cognitive science journalist Annie Murphy Paul gives a great review in the New York Times that got me interested in the book. She writes, “Tough sets out to replace this assumption with what might be called the character hypothesis: the notion that noncognitive skills, like persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence, are more crucial than sheer brainpower to achieving success.”
2. Teach Your Children Well: Parenting For Authentic Success, Madeline Levine, Ph.D. Simply put, the jacket copy moved me to tears: “…until we are clearer about our core values and the parenting choices that are most likely to lead to authentic success, we will continue to raise exhausted, externally driven, impaired children who believe that they are ‘only as good as their last performance.’ Real success is always an ‘inside job,’ argues Levine, and is measured not by today’s report card but by the people our children become ten or fifteen years down the line.”
3. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School, The National Research Council. Recommended by educator and author Sam Chaltain as required reading for every parent in America, this textbook produced by the National Academies and the National Research Council explains the basic cognitive processes of learning and teaching. While the opening chapters read a bit dry and textbookish, How People Learn is packed with so many fascinating facts about human learning, I can manage to plow through it, for learning’s sake.
4. A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown. I read this short, passionate plea to retool how we view learning late last year, but it made such an impact on me I wanted to include it in this list of to-reads. Thomas and Seely Brown see opportunity and energy in the lightening-fast way the world is changing, and invite us to hop on and change education. Their website explains, “By exploring play, innovation, and the cultivation of the imagination as cornerstones of learning, the authors create a vision of learning for the future that is achievable, scalable and one that grows along with the technology that fosters it and the people who engage with it.”
5. Punished by Rewards, by Alfie Kohn. Educator, parenting expert, author and, evidently, education-reform psychic Kohn writes to us from the future in this 1986 book, arguing that our unquenchable thirst for competition produces the exact opposite of desired results (see: entire US education reform). Instead of striving for excellence, Kohn notes, school and work are corrupted by the competition for “number one” status. Using hundreds of studies to show how competition “sabotages self-esteem and ruins relationships”, Kohn’s argument that collaboration is king makes me wonder what would happen if we taught children to value collaboration over winning.