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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Readers' Survey 2007: Best New Book About Education

Edutopia readers weigh in on their favorites.
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team
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Credit: Edutopia

The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century

The winners in this category weren't all new books, but one has to keep in mind the problem several respondents mentioned: Not many teachers have a lot of time for reading. And then there are those who find the time and pack it full. Wrote one reader, "There are too many to pick just one. You have to take bits from everywhere."

Those provisos aside, the top vote getter was The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas L. Friedman, followed by venerable education writer Jonathan Kozol's The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. Somewhat lighter though no less brilliant fare came in next: Frank McCourt's Teacher Man: A Memoir, followed by Teach with Your Heart: Lessons I Learned from the Freedom Writers, by Erin Gruwell.

Our Take

Best Books About Education That Aren't About Education

There are books about education, and there are books that educate. There are books that attempt to do both and fail, leaving us bored and resentful. And then there are books that aren't about education, but they manage to educate us about education, and as a bonus offer beautiful prose, wicked humor, and honesty. Below, we list a few of our favorites:

Autobiography of a Face, by Lucy Grealy. This memoir about growing up with a disfigured face, the result of repeated surgeries for cancer of the jaw, is an intimate and lyrical account of what it is to be bullied. Grealy's descriptions of cruelty and suffering are vivid and unforgettable.

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, by Stephen Greenblatt. How did the Bard learn, and from whom? This is a fascinating, if speculative, picture of a mysterious genius in the making.

The Great Railway Bazaar, by Paul Theroux. This account of the novelist's four-month train journey across Asia celebrates, perhaps inadvertently, the beauty and necessary strangeness of place-based education. Also an artful primer on geography and the way things were -- in 1975.

A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. Its tragic back story -- it was published eleven years after the author committed suicide -- reinforces the lesson hidden in its pages: Within the awkward body of an overweight slacker with lousy hygiene and a dysfunctional home life may beat the heart of a brilliant artist in need of a teacher's faith.

Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman. This one works on many levels, of course. Love, travel, meaning of life, hats -- Eastman leaves nothing out of this remedial guide to a well-balanced worldview. A seventy-two-page manual for living, if you're willing to reimagine the cars as hybrids.

Anything by P.G. Wodehouse. Pick one, any one -- any book by this English farceur is a must for the nightstands of all who cherish the "art" in "language arts." A complete sentence is worth a lot, but a diabolically funny paragraph that skewers your maiden aunt? Priceless.

What Is the What, by Dave Eggers. How does a teacher begin to understand the lives of her refugee students before they arrived in her classroom? She reads this book.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich. Meticulously researched and eloquently written, this is a powerful portrait of the "far country" from which many students commute to class every day. Not only does it provide context for many struggling students, it also provides cautionary tales for those who consider education irrelevant.

NEXT PAGE OF READERS' SURVEY: Best educational podcast

2007 Readers' Survey Index

Comments (4) Sign in or register to comment Subscribe to comments via RSS

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have to read so much referenced material for my masters, I would like to read a book that is enjoyable as well as educational. Is the book, "The World is Flat" a snoozer or worth my freetime?

Vickie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I just saw Lucy Grealy's Autobiography of a Face on your list and I got so excited! I asked my dept chair if I could teach that novel to my 9th grade English classes this upcoming school year. He just ordered a class set for me and I can't wait to teach it. They will definitely be able to identify with many of the issues that Grealy brings up throughout her book. Great book!

Bill Lingle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

One of the best Educational Fiction books I have read in recent memory is one written by William McBride called "Entertaining an Elephant." A story written about a new teacher working with a tough class in the inner city. This new teacher who is taking it personally befriends the school janitor. The janitor helps the teacher through the year with his wit and wisdom. Think "The Way of a Peaceful Warrior", by Dan Millman except in the realm of education.

Loved it, loved it, loved it.

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