The best books to provoke the impresario in every teacher

Who am I?

I’ve taught Philosophy graduate students at the same time as assisting in kindergartens when my kids were in community co-op schools... staging both classes the same way. Proud to be named Elon University’s 2002 Teacher of the Year, I have led classes “on the edge” ranging from “Millennial Imagination” and “Life in the Universe” (students just called it “Aliens”) to a Philosophy of Education course taught with a totally different pedagogy – embodying a different philosophy – every single session. I also work in environmental philosophy and am deeply involved in designing and building Common Ground Ecovillage in central North Carolina.


I wrote...

Teaching as the Art of Staging: A Scenario-Based College Pedagogy in Action

By Anthony Weston,

Book cover of Teaching as the Art of Staging: A Scenario-Based College Pedagogy in Action

What is my book about?

What I call “Impresarios with Scenarios” are teachers who make themselves class mobilizers, improvisers, and energizers, setting up self-unfolding learning challenges and adventures – off-beat and unexpected problems, unscripted dramas or role-plays, simulations that might take ten minutes or maybe a whole term – provoking and trusting students to run with them. Illustrated by detailed narratives from my own practice as well as others’, here is a conceptual framework as well as class-planning strategies for “teaching as staging”, in multiple settings and across the disciplines, differing sharply not just from “teaching as telling” but also from the supposedly opposite model of the teacher as facilitator or coach “guiding on the side”. Everyone active, no one on the side!

The books I picked & why

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The School And Society

By John Dewey,

Book cover of The School And Society

Why this book?

An even-tempered yet provocative sketch of the philosophy and design of a school “where actual & literal constructive activity shall be the center & source of the whole thing”... as when history students in Dewey’s experimental elementary school in effect recreate the industrial revolution, for instance reinventing crude cotton gins and looms and eventually even making some of their own clothes. What school could be! Dewey’s vision (first published in 1899!) is still radical (alas) and still topical and richly suggestive to scenario-staging pedagogy today.


Minds on Fire: How Role-Immersion Games Transform College

By Mark C. Carnes,

Book cover of Minds on Fire: How Role-Immersion Games Transform College

Why this book?

The founder of “Reacting to the Past” pedagogy offers both a theoretical rationale for, and touching and astonishing narratives from, “Reacting’s” trademark: month-long historical role-playing games that place college students into specific “roles informed by classic texts in the history of ideas”, culminating in open-ended reenactments of classic confrontations or historical watersheds like the trial of Galileo and the US Constitutional Convention. Students devour massive prep manuals; the events themselves are utterly absorbing, often with “moments of heart-stopping intensity”; and the thrills spill over into every moment of students’ lives (other school staff actually complain about this) and live on for years afterwards. (Cf. Model UN)


Six Thinking Hats

By Edward de Bono,

Book cover of Six Thinking Hats

Why this book?

Officially “Six Hats” is a framework for group decision-making, marking out the major types of consideration (what are the facts? the dangers? how do we feel about this?...) into six roles denoted by differently colored hats. But the classroom impresario will immediately recognize it as a ready-made method for staging those hoary (and problematic) old “class discussions” in far more energetic and widely participatory forms. The genius is to give each participant a pre-made place to speak from, and to make it visible and compelling. Bring on the hats! as my students would say.


Theatre of the Oppressed

By Augusto Boal, Charles A. McBride (translator),

Book cover of Theatre of the Oppressed

Why this book?

Inspired by Paolo Freire’s classic Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Brazilian dramatist and activist Augusto Boal makes active participants of audiences, staging oppressive interactions and then repeatedly re-staging them as “spect-actors” step up to intervene and remake the interaction. Anyone can join! A stunning synergy of empowering revolutionary theater and improvisational role-playing that has not even begun to be adapted to classrooms. You figure out why. Then figure out how to adapt and bring it on now.


Instead of Education: Ways to Help People Do Things Better

By John Holt,

Book cover of Instead of Education: Ways to Help People Do Things Better

Why this book?

Holt writes that the best learning experience in his life wasn’t a “learning experience” at all, but serving on a submarine during World War 2. Success – and sheer survival – manifestly hinged on quickly bringing even the rawest and supposedly least educable of the crew to function at the highest level. In such purposive settings, everything about “teaching and learning” is different. School as we know it, Holt argues, is hypocrisy-inducing and soul-crushing, plus stupendously inefficient, but you can take this angry book as also a provocation to rethink pedagogy in a radical but still constructive way... even in, yes, something like school.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in theatres, Eastern philosophy, and thinking?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about theatres, Eastern philosophy, and thinking.

Theatres Explore 52 books about theatres
Eastern Philosophy Explore 6 books about Eastern philosophy
Thinking Explore 34 books about thinking

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Strange Victory, The Lights That Failed, and Thinking in Time if you like this list.