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.
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.