Friday, July 6, 2012

Summer reading

One of my regular readers asked me to post ideas for summer reading. Here is some of what I've been reading this past year:

1. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education, by Diane Ravitch

This is a must read for Canadians, because school "choice" is the single biggest threat to our public education system. It comes in by stealth...choice seems positive and for many parents offers opportunities for their children they believe are valuable. But for society as a whole, "choice" can undermine one of the most fundamental principles of a public system - equal opportunity for all children. The sad reality is that "choices" cannot be exercises equally by all families and they end up creating similar inequities that we see between public and private schools.

Diane Ravitch speaks with a great deal of authority, having been herself involved in the federal education bureaucracy and a one time supporter of No Child Left Behind. But her professional judgement brought her to a change of mind and she is now one of the most vocal opponents of US education "reform". This is also an easy and pleasurable read, full of anecdotes and history.

2. Hold on to your kids, by Gerald Neufeld and Gabor Mate

This book taught me more about child development, attachment parenting, and classroom management than anything I ever read during my education degree. Of interest to both parents and teachers, the book reviews the role of attachment in the development and maturation of children and provides fascinating explanations for challenging behaviours of school age children including defiance, peer orientation, early sexualization, and just plain old teen "attitude".

For teachers and those interested in educational policy there is a clear message - we need the time and the personal relationships with children to have meaningful impact on their lives and to keep them engaged and oriented towards adults, rather than peers. Engagement is not "frills" or "edutainment", but rather the consequence of respect and attachment earned through relationship building. And there is only one way to build this relationship - time together. Never has a book indirectly made me feel more committed to the phrase "class size matters".

3. Education and Capitalism: Struggles for Learning and Liberation, by Jeff Bale and Sarah Knopp

This is the real 21st century learning. Thought provoking essays on the pitfalls of "reform" and what's actually wrong with American schools written by teacher activists in the trenches. A wide variety of issues are discussed: Is the reason for schooling really about economic advantage? The history of teachers unions. Education in corporate America. Education and social change. Social justice teaching.