The best books for inspiring lifelong learning

Cathy N. Davidson and Christina Katopodis Author Of The New College Classroom
By Cathy N. Davidson and Christina Katopodis

Who are we?

We are two college-level educators, one has had a long career, one a recent PhD. We share a commitment to lifelong learning, not just in the classroom but beyond. And we love learning from one another. We wrote The New College Classroom together during the pandemic, meeting over Zoom twice a week, discussing books by other educators, writing and revising and rewriting every word together, finding ways to think about improving our students’ lives for a better future even as the world seemed grim. The books we cherish share those values: hope, belief in the next generation, and a deep commitment to learning even in—especially in—the grimmest of times.

We wrote...

The New College Classroom

By Cathy N. Davidson and Christina Katopodis,

Book cover of The New College Classroom

What is our book about?

College teaching is stuck in the past. If a time traveler from a century ago arrived on today’s campuses, they would recognize only too well the listlessness of the lecture hall and the awkward silence of the seminar room. Yet we know how to do better. Cathy N. Davidson and Christina Katopodis, two of the world’s foremost innovators in higher education, turn to the latest learning science to tell us about inspiring, effective, and inclusive teaching. Davidson and Katopodis explain how and why their approach works and provide detailed case studies of educators successfully applying active-learning techniques in their courses every day, ensuring that their students are better prepared for the world after college. 

The books we picked & why

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Lessons from Plants

By Beronda L. Montgomery,

Book cover of Lessons from Plants

Why this book?

This gorgeous book by microbiologist Dr. Beronda L. Montgomery is as beautiful to read as it is to hold—in your hands, in your heart. We can’t stop thinking about Montgomery’s key lesson: if you have a plant that is struggling, you figure out what environmental changes it needs to thrive—more or less water or sunlight, better soil. When people fail to flourish, we’re quick to blame the individual. As an African American woman, Montgomery makes us think about society and how we approach problems (do we compete or do we build a collaborative effort for a holistic solution?). Humans have much to discover from our photosynthesizing world: how plants learn—from their own kin, their friends, and their foes—and Montgomery helps us to understand the nature (literally) of teaching and learning.

Braiding Sweetgrass

By Robin Wall Kimmerer,

Book cover of Braiding Sweetgrass

Why this book?

This is another poetic, lyrical, inspiring book. Kimmerer’s combined Indigenous and scientific ways of knowing—and how much truth she speaks as a mother and teacher—offers a warm embrace into thinking of the world as a most precious gift. When we receive gifts, we are humbled and feel compelled by joy to give back—what an astonishing, hopeful way to think about slowing down human-driven climate change. Kimmerer speaks from the heart. We can’t stop thinking about the “three sisters” (corn, beans, and pumpkins) and how they find room to grow around each other and help one another thrive in her garden. We use this book in our scholarly research, recommend it to colleagues, and talk about it with neighbors and fellow gardeners.

Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature

By Farah Jasmine Griffin,

Book cover of Read Until You Understand: The Profound Wisdom of Black Life and Literature

Why this book?

Although her father died when she was only nine, the great scholar of African American life and literature, Farah Jasmine Griffin has never forgotten his admonition to her: “Read until you understand.” In this beautiful book, Professor Griffin guides us to an understanding of the U.S. Constitution, Malcolm X, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder, the artist Romare Bearden, and writers as different as the enslaved 18th-century poet Phillis Wheatley and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison. As educators, we have read and re-read and read again. Every read reveals a new level of understanding and we are grateful for the journey on which Professor Griffin leads us.

Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

By bell hooks,

Book cover of Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

Why this book?

This 1994 classic by the late bell hooks never ceases to inspire us. “To educate is a practice of freedom,” hooks writes. She means that to be truly educated means to be liberated: to understand the forms of oppression, coercion, and limits imposed on learners because of class, gender, racial, sexual bias, and in every other way. hooks points to the barriers that keep us from being our very best selves. She inspires every reader to self-educate, self-reflect, find and build communities of support in order to live a better life. She inspires every educator to make, as their objective, not just the teaching of content but transmission of the tools that allow each student to achieve their own best aspirations for their lives and their community. 

Community as Rebellion: A Syllabus for Surviving Academia as a Woman of Color

By Lorgia García Peña,

Book cover of Community as Rebellion: A Syllabus for Surviving Academia as a Woman of Color

Why this book?

Peña’s book began as a letter written to students and it remains a powerful offering of love as well as a call to rebel and resist oppression. The book’s “Course Requirements” include: an open heart and mind; “The desire to be part of the sum, rather than a single part”; and patience—to make room for humility, to unlearn and relearn, to make mistakes, to become resilient in order to do more than rebel once but to actually light the fire within to be rebellious as a practice. This book inspires us to continue fighting for justice and change, and to sustain our communities to keep the light of hope in a better future burning.

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