The best books to provoke the impresario in every teacher

The Books I Picked & Why

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.


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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)


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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.


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Theatre of the Oppressed

By Augusto Boal, Charles A. McBride

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.


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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.


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