The Battleground BookshelfMay 16, 2009
I would recommend the following ten books to anyone interested in the issues covered in this blog:
“Why Don’t Students Like School?” by Daniel T. Willingham (2009). A book on what cognitive science can tell teachers by a professor of psychology. Some of it is common sense. Some of it is useful teaching advice. Some of it debunks rubbish like learning styles. Some of it is just interesting science. All of it is the perfect antidote to the nonsense teachers are told about the mind and the brain and how they work.
“All Must Have Prizes” by Melanie Phillips (1996). While I don’t agree with every policy suggested in it, this blistering polemic is a masterful survey of the dumbing down of education in the preceding decades. Devalued qualifications; attacks on content, and ridiculous methodologies are all given a thorough going over, as is the unaccountable, ideologically-motivated, educational establishment and the craven political classes responsible for what is described.
“Interest and Discipline in Education” by P.S.Wilson (1971). My favourite book from the philosophy of education boom in the sixties and seventies. Wilson analyses a number of key educational concepts in an interesting and thought-provoking way. I recommend it simply because once you have read the discussion on such things as “interest” and “needs” you will be more easily able to identify and challenge the shoddy, incoherent thinking on those topics that is still commonplace in education today.
“The Craft of The Classroom” by Michael Marland (1975). The classic, realistic guide to classroom management aimed at the secondary school teacher. This is solid practical advice that won’t achieve miracles, but is far superior to the sentimental nonsense that passes for advice in so much of the behaviour management industry. Solid routines, effective surveillance and “control” are seen as essential both to bring about learning and for the well-being of students.
“The Voice of Liberal Learning” by Michael Oakeshott (1989). A collection of philosophical essays by one of the twentieth century’s greatest thinkers. He helps establish the purposes of educational institutions as involving thought and knowledge rather than socialising inmates. Oakeshott, despite being a conservative, was always willing to think through concepts in new ways, and his analysis of what learning is remains the most convincing I have ever read.
“Does Education Matter?” by Alison Wolf (2002). An analysis of education policy, concentrating particularly on vocational education. This book relates the recent history of efforts by politicians to boost the economy through education and the embarrassing mess that has resulted. The horror story of efforts to introduce vocational qualifications and “skills”, particularly in further education, is reason enough to distrust all alleged alternatives to an academic education.
“Wisdom, Information and Wonder” by Mary Midgley (1991). A philosophy book that seeks to answer the question of what knowledge is for. Not explicitly a book about schooling, this book, nevertheless, identifies many of the bad philosophical ideas that have poisoned our schools. She critiques the ideas that education is a simple accumulation of information and efforfts to make ethics a matter of subjective opinion, and suggests that unfashionable concepts such as wisdom and blame are still necessary.
“No Excuses” by Abigail Thernstrom and Stephan Thernstrom (2004). An American book explaining how schools in the US can close the “racial gap” in education. While the education gap in this country is more about class than race, the analysis still holds true. It turns out that the answer is providing good schools with good discipline and challenging the culture of failure is what works. By contrast, blaming everything on racist teachers and trying to raise children’s self-esteem doesn’t work.
“Laying Down the Law” by Joe Clark with Joe Picard (1989). The story of how a challenging US school was turned round, this book is the ultimate “how to” guide to improving a school. It’s pretty simple really. It turns out that if you stage a coup and impose a management regime that will refuse to tolerate teachers who don’t teach and students who don’t behave, there will be a positive effect on the lives of students. Inspiring and heroic.
“Surviving and Succeeding in Difficult Classrooms” by Paul Blum (1989). The best guide to teaching in the worst schools. Indispensable to teachers in bad situations; this is also a real eye-opener to anyone who wants to know just how bad things can get. Worth reading just for the introduction which explains just why we need to ignore the myth that behaviour problems can be solved simply by good teaching.