Here are some reviews of books on education that I’ve read within the past four or so years. Some of these were posted on an earlier blog I had; I’ve re-read a few of them since that time, and updated my thoughts on their contents. I hope that reading these summaries will inspire someone to get one of these books in order to learn more about education!
“The Closing of the American Mind”- Allan Bloom ★★★
Complete genius of an author, but his mode of language is almost too difficult for me to decipher! It took me almost a whole year to finish the book. His premise is basically that America’s education and moral systems are defunct, and the solution is for all students to study the great classics of Western literature, which will give them a secure foundation in the fundamentals necessary to become informed, thoughtful, logically and ethically sound civilized beings. At least, I think that’s what Bloom’s premise is… even after going over parts of this book more than twice, it still seems vague in spots.
“Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not All in Your Head”- Carla Hannaford ★★★★
Hannaford’s premise is that coordination of movement, with body games, gymnastics, and integration of full-body exercises, is vital to a child’s capacity for gaining mental knowledge. She explores the connection between a student’s ability to learn and the development of their kinesthetic abilities. There is also a section detailing the reasons she believes children are not functioning well in schools, such as stress, lack of body development, nutritional inadequacy, the overstimulation of the child’s environment, and an education system that does not take the whole child into account. Some of the theories (and solutions) are rather far-fetched, but there is some useful information to be found here.
“The Unschooled Mind”- Howard Gardner ★★★
It made me sad to read this book because it so accurately portrays the blatant flaws of the public education system in America. Gardner has a lot of innovative ideas, but unfortunately they’re mostly impractical for today’s school system. Either the functional capabilities of government, theology of modern parenthood, or qualifications and training of teachers would have to be completely renovated for his theories to be put into practice. I really like his idea of multiple intelligences, though, and some parts of his idea of reinstating apprenticeships. If schools instituted even a quarter of his suggestions, students would be in a better place.
“Dumbing Down Our Kids”- Charles Sykes ★★
Mostly gave information on the inception, development, changes, and downfalls of the American public education system. It goes into great depth about the specific problems facing graduates of this system today, and why children are being gypped out of a beneficial education. Slightly boring in some places; you’d be much better off reading “The Unschooled Mind”.
“The Teenage Liberation Handbook”- Grace Llewellyn ★★★★★
The phrase on the cover says: “This is a very dangerous book. It contradicts all the conventional wisdom about dropouts and the importance of a formal education.” That’s a fairly accurate review of what you can expect! Llewellyn’s premise is that all people, not just adults, are worthy of freedom and respect, so public education (or any school) should be optional, not mandatory, for someone who knows what they want to do in life. Her belief is that a ten year old or a sixteen year old who has goals they wish to accomplish and a means of obtaining them should not be hampered with the drudgery of subjects that will do little to aid them on their path. On the one hand, I applaud the boldness of this book; it encourages homeschoolers and unschoolers to pursue their dreams, with the help of mentors and family, while continuing to gain knowledge and achieve a meaningful career (which is basically what I did, so I know it’s possible). However, I wouldn’t go so far as to agree with the undertones of rebellion, the attitude of “do whatever you want if you think it’s what’s best for you”, that appear throughout the book. There is also a considerable bias against formal school settings, so if you might be offended by that, then I wouldn’t suggest reading it. But I do think that this is an extremely useful, valuable book for any family or teenager who has decided on eschewing school in favor of their own personalized education.
“The Elements of Teaching”- James Banner Jr. and Harold Cannon ★★★★★
This book explains the timeless principles of what it means to be a great teacher. The model teacher would exemplify wisdom, freedom, authority, strength, a desire to always learn, and grace towards their pupils. The authors are eye-opening for those in search of what America’s education system is lacking in the tutelage of its students. A short book, but one worth purchasing and reading every year.
“The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School”- Neil Postman ★★★★★
Written by the author of “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, this book was penned in a wonderfully enlightening, comprehensible manner. Its proposals are revolutionary; some go too far, in my opinion, but others are quite within the realm of practical usage. His mindset is that today’s children, in order to become functional adults of the modern America, must be taught to value diversity while looking beyond individual differences to the unifying tie that binds us all: our function as global citizens. Kinda scary at some parts, when he hints at a “one world, one people” sort of mindset. He tries very hard to reconcile the need for uniqueness in culture, religion, etc. while seeking to promote understanding about these differences without falling into relativism. A hard line to walk. I applaud him for his efforts, though, even as I wonder about the tenability of his proposals.
“Discipline Without Tears”- Dreikers and Cassel ★★
While I don’t agree with the initial premise of this book (that corporal punishment is completely damaging and useless for children), it had some interesting thoughts about the interactions between teachers and children. In the end, I must say that I was able to learn some valuable ideas on how to deal with certain scenarios of problems in the classroom. However, the book refuses to admit the innate fallenness of human nature, and in this way limits its responses to recalcitrance. It also places too much power in the hands of the teacher, while portraying parents as helpless and antediluvian, but well-meaning, wardens. In a perfect world it would be the other way around, with all parents taking responsibility for the moral, emotional, and relational growth of their children.
“A Biblical Psychology of Learning”- Ruth Beechick ★★★
Offers more insight than the average sociological/psychological textbook while viewing the world from a Christian standpoint. It comes as a refreshing perspective in a die-hard humanistic culture.
“How Children Learn”- John Holt ★★★★★
Holt is one of my inspirations for this blog. He set out to find the best environment for children to grow and thrive as students. Again and again Holt shows how children are created to learn naturally, seeking out opportunities to gain knowledge about things that interest them in the world, even at a very young age. The way children are described shows them to be individuals who are worthy of respect, who seek to discover their talents by exploring the world around them, who love to learn when given the freedom and stimulation they need. Education in this book is shown to be more than the facts in textbooks studied in a school setting. Highly, highly recommended!
“How Children Fail”- John Holt ★★★★★
Again, Holt shows children for who they are: curious, creative, and eager to learn, IF they are given the opportunity and if their teachers more interested in helping the children grow than in satisfying scholastic headquarters. Without believing that children are naturally good, Holt is free to see the true problems of the fallen human nature, such as fear, shame, confusion, defiance, and mistakes. This is a great book about the proper ways to develop the capacity and desire for learning in children.
“Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relations from 1500 to 1900”- Linda A. Pollock ★★★
Interesting from a historical perspective, this book referenced education as only one of the provinces of childhood. “Learning” was implied throughout its pages, so it was almost better that it was not approached with a strict view on school education, because it was made apparent that knowledge and understanding can be gained outside the confines of the educational institution. The most important idea that I understood from Pollock was that children used to be treated as if they were intelligent, capable beings. There was certainly a lot of adolescent oppression (children as slaves, underpaid workers, etc.) but the point is that young people were able to handle responsibility. Pollock showed that “youth” does not have to be synonymous with “incompetent”.
“Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning”- Douglas Wilson ★★
This written from a classical education standpoint, with the intention of the school classroom only being a functional mode of instruction if parents are extremely involved. Wilson errs on the legalistic side, however, which is a big turn-off for me. I wrote more about what a classical education is in another book down below.
“Postmodern Times”- Gene Edward Veith, Jr. ★★★★
Of course, as you can see from the title, this is a book about an entire cultural mindset, not just education. Written from a Christian perspective, its view is that education must be seen as just a part of the wider culture, without idolizing or singling out education as something that is separate from everything else in life. The process of learning is inherent throughout the book’s exploration of the effects of postmodernism on today’s children, youth, and adults. This book is definitely not a light read, as it encompasses not only education but also the in-depth study of a postmodern Christian worldview.
“How Lincoln Learned to Read”- Daniel Wolff ★★★
Delves into the varied ways great men and women in American history obtained the mental, psychological, emotional, and spiritual background that made them who they were as adults. About half of the characters described in the stories either did not attend a formal school or dropped out at some point early in their childhood. It gives proof that some of our most revered American heroes obtained their education in alternative ways. There is a lot of encouragement here for students young and old alike to think outside the box and decide for themselves what their passions are.
“The Well-Trained Mind”- Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer ★★
This book details the system of “classical education”. It’s written with the intent of homeschooling, but there are private schools that utilize this philosophy, like the book I already mentioned. It’s a more academically rigorous education based on the classical model of the trivium, which follows the child’s maturing progression of mental capabilities. Lack of room for creativity, lack of freedom to explore one’s personal interests, and a formidable school work load are three of the major flaws in this theory. That being said, I think some students would truly thrive in this structured environment, provided that the teachers were like those described in “The Elements of Teaching”.