My daughter prompted today’s column on the classic texts every educator should have read. In a reply to an earlier post of mine on how we keep reinventing the wheel in education, she wrote:

I confess to being part of that woefully ignorant generation of teachers. I hesitate to admit this, but I still haven’t read many education books that are considered central to the practice. Partly this is because I don’t have a good method for knowing which ones to read. If there were a list of the ten best-practice books every teacher had to have read, I’d read it. But lately I’ve been trying to make my way through the shelf of professional trade books in our school library, and I can’t separate the wheat from the chaff without reading them. Books that are best-sellers and sound great are often poorly written and have little substance. Books that I’ve heard are hugely important to teaching often read so dry and technical that I find myself putting off the reading more and more. I have so little time for outside reading as it is, I wish I had a master teacher or mentor who could aid me in this.

Ta-da! Thanks to crowd-sourcing via Twitter and LinkedIn, I received dozens of responses from friends and colleagues around the country.
I asked people to restrict their recommendations to books written before 1985 – essential time-tested books that all educators should be expected to have read at some point. Here is the list, in order of number of recommendations:

      • Democracy & Education, John Dewey
      • Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire
      • Horace’s Compromise, Ted Sizer
      • Emile, Jean Jacques Rousseau
      • Paideia Proposal, Mortimer Adler
      • The Taxonomy, Benjamin Bloom et al
      • Basic Principles of Curriculum & Instruction, Ralph Tyler
      • Crisis in the Classroom, Charles Silberman
      • Curriculum: Theory and Practice, Hilda Taba
      • The Child and the Curriculum, John Dewey
      • The Moral Judgment of the Child, Jean Piaget
      • Thought and Language, Vygotsky
      • High School, Ernie Boyer
      • A Place Called School, John Goodlad
      • Beyond Freedom and Dignity, B F Skinner
      • Ideology and Curriculum, Michael Apple
      • School Teacher, Dan Lortie
      • The Reader, The Text, The Poem, Louise Rosenblatt
      • How To Read A Book, Mortimer Adler
      • How To Solve It, Georg Polya
      • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn

Note that many of these books, strictly speaking, do not fulfill my daughter’s requirement of being books about best practice for teachers – i.e. how-to books that are not “dry and technical” nor superficial and filled with truisms. (For example, I would propose Dewey’s How We Think and The Montessori Method under that heading). Nor do most books on our current list (except the last four) relate to best practice in specific subjects. So, best books on best practice will be a later column.
But if we say that the point of this list was to highlight books that any practicing educator should have read – and perhaps have re-read a few times in a career – what do readers think about this list? Comments? Additions? Subtractions?



2 Responses

  1. We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery–three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos–lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.
    Three hours with Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, lively discussing the art of reading, on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.
    I cannot exaggerate how instructive these programs are–we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.
    Please go here to see a clip and learn more:
    ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8
    Thank you,
    Max Weismann

    • I used the book as an English teacher. More importantly, it saved my life as a student at St. John’s! And there, once a year, Adler gave a lively and controversial lecture to skeptical Johnnies. Students famously pranked his lectures, and my class spoofed him as a Great Books huckster in a re-write of Trial by Jury we called Trial by Johnny….

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