The more I scan the Amazon bestsellers in the education section as well as some of the other major lists, the more I come to believe that the best education books are rarely bestsellers. There are exceptions to this. Some incredible books about education absolutely become bestsellers, and that is encouraging. However, they do so despite some of the trends, not because of them. Here are seven reasons why.
Bestsellers tend to stretch but not break the system.
We want to be stretched, but only so far. If there is a central truth that risks disrupting the system altogether, we would usually rather ignore it. Exceptions are often education books that get a readership outside the normal audience. They are books that connect with and reach a group that knows or lives the brokenness of the system. I put books like Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed in this category.
Bestsellers keep it concrete.
Even though some of the most important issues call for an examination of the theoretical and philosophical, many of us would rather settle for a simple 10-step guide or at least something straightforward and concrete. The issue might be complex, but we still want and hope for a simple solution. In the absense of that, we will settle for a reciple. There are exceptions, books that draw from theory and reserach to highlight a very practical and lived experience, but those are also the books where the authors come back in five to ten years to talk about all the ways that educators are misusing or misunderstanding their intentions. We see that with Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind as well as Dweck’s Mindset.
Bestsellers use or create buzz words.
We love buzz words in education, and we buy the books that use the latest ones. In fact, it sometimes seems like a recipe for success is choose a few buzz words, add some inspirational stories, include a list of tips, and you have a bestseller.
Bestsellers are about the celebrity educator as much as what they wrote.
There are many wonderful exceptions to this, but oftentimes it is just a matter of people who have a great following, they write a people, and those followers take if from there.
Bestsellers bow to the sacred cows.
There are some things that you can challenge in education and others that you cannot. There is only so much openness to full and candid discourse. Any challenge to certain existing power structures will immediately put you on the “do not buy” list, although this sometimes works out too. When there are enough people outside of the system who resonate, that can be enough to start a movement.
Bestsellers do not bother with too much research.
Again, I am thankful that there are some great exceptions to this, but many of us in education do not want to bother with the hard stuff. We are all about following your instincts even if the research, sometimes even when the research, indicates otherwise.
Bestsellers get their by great marketing.
There are wonderful education books that do not release through top publishers with larger budgets, or they are not written by well-known personalities who have a large pre-existing audience. As such, they just don’t reach a large audience. That does not mean, however, that they couldn’t reach a larger audience with the right marketing strategy.
I realize that these are broad generalizations and, like I mentioned at the beginning of the article, there are some encouraging and wonderful exceptions to this. However, that is not my main reason for writing this. Instead, I write this article because I have been incredibly blessed to discover lesser known education books that have changed the way that I think about teaching, learning, and education as a whole. Some of them were bestsellers of a different era. Others never reached large audience. That doesn’t take anything away from the fact that they are insightful, even important, books about education. As such, I invite others to join me in doing the extra work to seek out books that might not be praised at education conferences, highlighted in bestseller lists, promoted among colleagues, or even known by others. The majority is sometimes wrong, maybe even the majority of the time. How will this influence your reading habits?