The best books about schools and education

Who am I?

I’m a cognitive scientist, and I love reading, thinking, and researching about the nature of the human – and especially the young – mind, and what it is capable of. Even while I was still doing my PhD in experimental psychology at Oxford in the early 1970s, I was gripped by the new possibilities for thinking about education that were being opened up by science. In particular, the assumption of a close association between intelligence and intellect was being profoundly challenged, and I could see that there was so much more that education could be, and increasing needed to be, than filling kids’ heads with pockets of dusty knowledge and the ability to knock out small essays and routine calculations. In particular, we now know that learning itself is not a simple reflection of IQ, but is a complex craft that draws on a number of acquired habits that are capable of being systematically cultivated in school – if we have a mind to do it.


I wrote...

What's the Point of School?: Rediscovering the Heart of Education

By Guy Claxton,

Book cover of What's the Point of School?: Rediscovering the Heart of Education

What is my book about?

Education has become more and more soulless. With their emphasis on regurgitated knowledge and stressful examinations, today’s schools often do more harm than good. Of course, knowledge is useful – but what knowledge do young people actually need? And are there other things than knowledge – forms of expertise and even aspects of character – that schools should be paying attention to? In this book, I argue that cultivating characteristics such as perseverance, skepticism, and imagination is as important as reading, writing, math, and a bit of history – and that the two sets of aims actually support each other rather than conflict.

The books I picked & why

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The School in the Cloud: The Emerging Future of Learning

By Sugata Mitra,

Book cover of The School in the Cloud: The Emerging Future of Learning

Why this book?

You may know of Sugata’s work, even if the name does not ring a bell. He is the Indian professor who decided to cement an online computer into a wall in a slum in Delhi, set up a hidden camera, and waited to see how the local children would react. This was before everyone had a laptop or a mobile phone. The kids quickly gathered round and quickly figured out how to do all kinds of interesting things, without any teaching. Indeed, he found that when teachers tried to ‘help’, the children stopped being resourceful, stopped collaborating as independent learners, and expected to be taught. The School in the Cloud documents the growth of Sugata’s work and global influence since that first experiment, and reminds us forcibly of just how much all children can learn under their own steam – if we will just get out of the way. 

The School in the Cloud: The Emerging Future of Learning

By Sugata Mitra,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The School in the Cloud as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Discover the results of Sugata Mitra's latest research around self-organized learning environments (SOLE) and building "Schools in the Cloud" all over the world.


An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students

By Ron Berger,

Book cover of An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students

Why this book?

Ron Berger is a global treasure in the field of education. He is the guiding spirit behind the remarkable EL Education schools – they used to be called Expeditionary Learning schools – in the USA. An Ethic of Excellence was the first book of Ron’s I encountered, and it blew me away. With years of hard-won experience, he has learned that all students, give the right kind of support, are capable of producing genuinely high-quality work, and he knows how to teach in a way that makes that possibility a reality. Ron says, “when we are grown up, we won’t be judged by our test scores, but by the quality of both our character and our work”, and he gets students ready for that world. His schools get all their students to good colleges, and they get good degrees. The quality of Ron’s work is truly inspiring.

An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students

By Ron Berger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Ethic of Excellence as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Drawing from his own remarkable experience as a veteran classroom teacher (still in the classroom), Ron Berger gives us a vision of educational reform that transcends standards, curriculum, and instructional strategies. He argues for a paradigm shifta schoolwide embrace of an ethic of excellence. A master carpenter as well as a gifted teacher, Berger is guided by a craftsman's passion for quality, describing what's possible when teachers, students, and parents commit to nothing less than the best. But Berger's not just idealistic, he's realistiche tells exactly how this can be done, from the blackboard to the blacktop to the school…


The Saber-Tooth Curriculum

By Abner Peddiwell,

Book cover of The Saber-Tooth Curriculum

Why this book?

This marvelous little book was first published in 1939 – and it is still bang up to date in its critique of conventional education. (As a society we seem to have learned far too little in the ensuing 80 years). Peddiwell tells the story of the first pre-historic educators who taught young people useful life skills like how to grab fish, or how to use fire to scare away saber-tooth tigers. Over the years the climate changed, but the elders refused to allow the curriculum to change with it. The saber-tooth tigers died out, but scaring them still had to be taught in schools because that knowledge had become a ‘cultural treasure’ even though it was now useless. It is very funny, and bang on the money, in showing just how stupid supposedly clever people can be. (Peddiwell and his story were both made up by a real professor called Harold Benjamin!)

The Saber-Tooth Curriculum

By Abner Peddiwell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Saber-Tooth Curriculum as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

McGraw-Hill first published "The Saber- Tooth Curriculum" in 1939, and it has remained a classic bestseller to this date. The book is just as relevant and applicable to the key questions in education today as it was when it was first published. With tongue firmly in cheek, Peddiwell takes on the contradictions and confusion generated by conflicting philosophies of education, outlining the patterns and progression of education itself, from its origins at the dawn of time to its culmination in a ritualistic, deeply entrenched social institution with rigidly prescribed norms and procedures. This fascinating exploration is developed within a fanciful…


Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World

By David Perkins,

Book cover of Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World

Why this book?

Perkins, like Mitra and Berger, is on my list of top educational gurus. All his books are worth reading, but Future Wise is one of the latest and best. It takes a long careful look at the contents of the conventional school curriculum, compares it with the real-world challenges that today’s kids will meet, and finds it seriously lacking as a preparation for real life. He goes on to explore the wealth of current knowledge that isn’t in the curriculum but ought to be, and demonstrates the kind of careful, creative thinking about education that ought to be happening but rarely is – certainly not by most academics and politicians. David is a Harvard professor, and is, as you would expect, deeply thoughtful and fair-minded, but he writes with a down-to-earth elegance and charm that makes his penetrating questioning all the more convincing.

Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World

By David Perkins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Future Wise as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How to teach big understandings and the ideas that matter most Everyone has an opinion about education, and teachers face pressures from Common Core content standards, high-stakes testing, and countless other directions. But how do we know what today's learners will really need to know in the future? Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World is a toolkit for approaching that question with new insight. There is no one answer to the question of what's worth teaching, but with the tools in this book, you'll be one step closer to constructing a curriculum that prepares students for whatever…


The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School

By Neil Postman,

Book cover of The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School

Why this book?

Postman is another of my heroes, not least because – like Perkins – of the quality of his thinking and writing. Again, all his books are a pleasure to read – right back to one I read as a young lecturer in the early 1970s called Teaching as a Subversive Activity. The pun in his title is deliberate and speaks to the heart of his argument: that if we do not rediscover a coherent and compelling end – i.e. purpose – for education, it will probably, and deservedly, be the end of education as we know it. Postman explores five possible narratives that could be compelling enough to revive young people’s interest and faith in their school. Again, like Perkins, he does not end by giving us an easy answer, but boy, does he make you think about what might be possible. A true visionary, with his feet firmly on the ground (and sadly no longer with us).

The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School

By Neil Postman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The End of Education as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Postman suggests that the current crisis in our educational system derives from its failure to supply students with a translucent, unifying "narrative" like those that inspired earlier generations. Instead, today's schools promote the false "gods" of economic utility, consumerism, or ethnic separatism and resentment. What alternative strategies can we use to instill our children with a sense of global citizenship, healthy intellectual skepticism, respect of America's traditions, and appreciation of its diversity? In answering this question, The End of Education restores meaning and common sense to the arena in which they are most urgently needed.

"Informal and clear...Postman's ideas about…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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