In Ecclesiastes 12:12 the author wrote, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.”Of course, that doesn’t mean that we should disregard books. There are plenty of good ones; books that inform, inspire, and help us look at ourselves, others, and the world differently. Sometimes they challenges our current ideas. Sometimes they confirm our thoughts or suspicions. Either way, amid our media-rich world, there is still something to be said for sitting with a good book and the author who wrote it, giving that author and book your undivided attention, and delving into the world of that author’s ideas.
When it comes to education books, we have a wider array of voices than ever before, especially with the growing publishing options available to people. There is no way to read them all, and there is really no clear way to sift through all the options. Some go with the big name popular publishers. Others give special attention to the top University or academic publishers. Others go with recommendations from colleagues or maybe the books mentioned by speakers at a conference. Or, perhaps you look for suggestions on blogs that you frequent, ones like this. Given that you are reading this article, there is a good chance that you use that last method on occasion or that you are thinking about doing it this time.
If that is the case, let me preface my list by explaining how I came up with it. This list is not based on the most popular books. It is not about which book earned the most awards or accolades. It is not even about the best edited books. It also isn’t a list that came about from some sort of poll, group vote, or careful research. It is also far from exhaustive. In fact, even after writing it, I debated about turning this into a list of fifty books from the last decade so that I could add many other favorites, but I resisted. Twenty will do for now. As such, what you are getting is my highly subjective list of what I consider to be twenty of the most important education books in the last decade, books that made me think and rethink, books that opened my eyes, books that further equipped me, and books that inspired me in some way. Perhaps you will find something of interest in the list too. Or, you are more than welcome to add your own book recommendations in the comment section.
Average is a myth and Todd Rose does a great job showing how and why this is true. If you want a deep exploration of ideas that challenge much of the modern assumptions behind our education system, this is the book for you. It also offers ideas that offer greater depth and substance to topics like standardized tests, our use of test scores in education, personalized learning, and many other such topics.
I’ve written about this idea of expertise acquisition and deliberate practice in the past, and there are several great books on this subject. Yet, why not go straight to one of the leading experts on the subject, which is just what you will be doing if you read this book. If only our schools would embrace this science as a shaping force in classrooms and beyond.
The popular expression of Carol Dweck’s research on growth versus fixed mindsets is one of those ideas that gained widespread attention, but we’ve yet to see such widespread application of the ideas. Nonetheless, this shift in thinking is, I contend, and important ingredient in the broader conversation about nurturing agency.
We’ve heard plenty of people talk about the need to shift to a post-industrial model of education, but I’ve yet to read a more coherent and convincing narrative than this book by Frederick Hess. Hess illustrates how both left and right leaning reformers in education often agree upon the same things, and these often keep us anchored in an increasingly less relevant past. This is a must read for anyone interested in truly imagining new possibilities in education.
This is a story of a school that, according to government metrics of standardized tests is low performing. Yet, look more closely and you will find an incredibly inspiring success story. Only, the narrow metrics used to evaluate it miss the wonders in the walls so much that some have pushed to have the school closed. This is an inspiring take of a school that is going great things while highlighting the need for us to broaden our definition of success and a thriving school.
E.D. Hirsch, a leading voice for core knowledge curriculum makes a case that knowledge and content still have an important role in education. While some are turned off by the style of his writing and his assessment of some educational theories is a bit light, his voice remains an important one, and this text will still leave the open-minded reader with ample food for thought.
This is the second Hess book in my list. It is part of what reshaped my own thinking to invest a bit more time in education policy work. In this text, Hess provides important insights on how research does and does not inform education policy. This is an important text for anyone wanting a more transparent view of how many of our existing policies come to be.
Kieran Egan is an important voice today because he provides an alternative to progressivism while not necessarily reverting to industrial models of education. In this text he outlines a simple but profound way to nurture curiosity, deep learning, a myriad of literacies, and a growing sense of agency.
Salman Kahn, most know for Khan Academy, shares an accessible vision for education informed by changes in a connected world. This is a quick read, but it is a good introduction to potential futures in our education system, illustrating the power and possibility of more personalized views of learning.
Tony Wanger’s work has been a refreshing addition to the modern education conversation, and this is a great place to start. You can always check out two others that could arguably have a place in this list, Most Likely to Succeed and The Global Achievement Gap.
The rising costs of higher education and the information technology revolution combine to create a perfect storm. You don’t have to agree with everything in this book or even be interested in higher education to learn from this well-written and well-researched text that gives us a glimpse into the emerging future of education. This is the sole higher education book in my list, but as you might expect, I’d definitely need to extend this to a list of fifty if I were to draw from the higher education shelves in my home library. So, I chose this one because of its implications for all levels of education.
This book made the list partly because of the author, a student. It represents the growing student voice in conversations about education reform. It is shaped by this student’s expansive interviews of luminaries along with other personal study of the issues. Reading this text reminds us about the importance of student voice in education and how much students have to bring to these conversations.
Another book by Egan, in fact a predecessor the previously mentioned one, this is one of the strongest and most compelling critiques of the modern progressivist movement. Many are surprised to find that I have a fair number of critiques about progressivism. They assume that my support for many innovations and emerging models stems from progressivism, but they do not. I can’t think of a better author and book to explain why.
This book makes the list because it represents the rapid growth of self-directed learning today. It is a trend with massive implications for education. While this book is a straightforward “how to” book for aspiring self-directed learners, it has important lessons for anyone interested in education in a connected age.
“In principle we want the best for all children. In practice we want the best for our own.” If that one garners your attention, then you will be riveted by this read. Labaree is an impressive thinker and scholar and challenges many of my own assumptions about choice in education. Yet, he also doesn’t fit neatly into any one camp. You don’t have to agree with him, but if you want to be challenged to truly think about the affordances and limitations of education and education reform, this is a great starting point.
Keri Facer does a tremendous job framing the future of learning around larger societal and global issues. It is one of the more substantive explorations of the future of learning that I’ve read.
If you know me well, you would be surprised to find this book in my list. I disagree with Diane Ravitch on quite a few matters, but at the end of the day, we also have quite a few things in common when it comes to our critique of the modern education system. Ravitch does not write as a neutral scholar. Her personal beliefs and values drip from almost every page, something that readers of my books might find a bit familiar. Agree or disagree with her, Ravitch represents an important voice and set of viewpoints in modern education. This is a book that is sure to challenge people on all sides to check their motives and their methods.
This is not a book about k-12 or higher education, but it offers important lessons for all of us. Jay Cross is a leading voice in the power of informal learning, and while it might be written for corporate learning, there are implications in this text for a myriad of audiences.
This book is a second that comes from that broader realm of positive psychology. In this case, Angela Duckwork illustrates that success is not just a matter of intelligence or traditional academic achievement. She demonstrates from research and highlights with engaging personal narrative, the importance of this trait sometimes known as grit.
This is a follow-up to Tough’s earlier book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Power of Character. Tough is a journalist, not an academic, and I am sometimes cautious about these popular texts. Yet, Tough does a fine job telling the story of why and how character matters. Yet, in this newer book, he also warns of efforts to create curricula that explicitly teach traits like grit. Instead, he offers a convincing case for creating environments where traits like grit are likely to be nurtured. This is an important book in helping us to think about how we learn beyond formal lessons and curricula, and what that has to do with the development of traits that are critical for success in a 21st century world.