The Best Books About Schools And Education

The Books I Picked & Why

The School in the Cloud: The Emerging Future of Learning

By Sugata Mitra

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. 


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

By Ron Berger

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.


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The Saber-Tooth Curriculum

By Abner Peddiwell

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!)


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Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World

By David Perkins

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.


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The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School

By Neil Postman

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).


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