Education Book Reviews

Over the past few months I have been pursuing  a teacher’s public school certification for Texas. One important step in that endeavor has been reading the latest books on education policy, curriculum and classroom management. I have been collecting lots of books and learning new things. I haven’t begun to finish these books, but I have skimmed a lot and learned a lot of important things.

Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. By Diane Ravitch . Eye-opening analysis of education reform by one of America’s education experts. Ravitch makes the case that a test-centered approach to teaching and learning has done significant harm to students. Significantly Ravitch pins much of the blame on charter schools and the push by foundations (like Gates and others) to privatize learning. One of the most eye-opening facts was how performance of US students on NAEP (a fairly reliable test used for comparing education progress)has been steadily rising, belying the idea that public schools are “failing” the kids. At heart Ravitch believes that public schools are doing as good a job as they can under the circumstances and don’t need private entrepreneurship to upend the system. Highly recommended.
Teach Like a Champion. Doug Lemov . This is a very impressive set of practices and guidelines for ensuring that learning actually takes place inside the classroom and that the classroom is managed properly. This is a very clever book and probably most new and experienced teachers could learn a thing or two from it. This helpful book also includes video excerpts on the enclosed DVD to illustrate the principles when put in practice. To my delight, I later learned that Lemov did some teacher training at HISD, and so this book is influencing schools already.
Lies My Teacher Told Me. James W. Loewen . This very famous and respected critique of high school history classes shows the danger of an approach to social studies which skims the surface of historical events. Lowen highlights some howlers which are nonetheless taught in class (and most of which I remember learning about). Although I applaud the aim of this book, in fact I think the process of producing and approving textbooks is what ensures its bland inoffensiveness. I’m guessing that a lot of these misperceptions are quickly dispelled in college history classes, so I have to wonder what Loewen wants here. Does he want history teachers to focus on less material in more depth. Or more class time in general? Also, I’m sure it would be ideal to have high school teachers who know some of these historical old wives’ tales. I guess the book’s reputation (and catchy title) ensures that all history teachers will have to read it and tailor their lessons accordingly.
Brain Gain. By Marc Prensky .
Power of Mindful Learning. By Ellen Langer .
Essential 55. By Ron Clark.
Case Against Homework by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish. (Website ).This book argues that schools harm children and family life by assigning too much homework. Most of the book consists of anecdotal evidence, quotes by psychology professors and harried parents. I’m sure there is a grain of truth here, but I felt that the case wasn’t made fairly. For example, are some kinds of homework worse than others? What about long term project work rather than daily assignments? The book successfully conveys the fact that huge amounts of homework interferes with family life and participation in extracurriculars. That is certainly important. One Amazon commenter (and school administrator) mentioned that teachers often assign too much homework because they didn’t have time to finish their lesson in class (or students didn’t have the interest to do their work in class). Having too much homework might be a symptom of a dysfunctional classroom than a teacher with unreasonable expectations. Interesting to read, but I wish it went into more detail about what kinds of homework actually are worthwhile (other than throwaway advice for students to avoid doing more than 5 math problems a night).

Below are books I have been accumulating and haven’t read enough of to formulate an opinion about:

  • Teach like your hair is on fire. by Rafe Esquith.
  • Power of Poems by Margriet Ruurs.
  • Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner.
  • Activating the Desire to Learn. By Bob Sullo.
  • Art of Thinking by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero.
  • Strategies that work. By Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis.
  • Myth of Laziness. By Mel Levine, MD
  • Dramatic Literacy: Using Drama and Literature to Teach Middle-Level Content.  By J. Lea Smith & J Daniel Herring.
  • Engaging Minds: Motivating & Learning in America’s Schools by David A. Goslin.
  • Anti-Education Era by James Paul Gee.
  • Unschooled Mind: How Children Learn and how schools should teach.  by Howard Gardener.
  • Live Wires: Neuro-Parenting to Ignite your teen’s brain. By Judith Widener Muir MD
  • Dramatic Literacy: Using Drama and Literature to Teach Middle-Level Content by J. Lea Smith & J. Daniel Herring.



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