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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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This winter's recommended reads come from different genres and are intended to address the multitude of literary needs that you may have. Happy reading!

The one education-related book you must read: Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates:

"I came to see the streets and the schools as arms of the same beast. One enjoyed the official power of the state while the other enjoyed its implicit sanction. But fear and violence were the weaponry of both."

Coates' poetic memoir and reflection on what it means to be a black man in the United States, written in the form of a letter to his 15-year-old son, is my top read for the decade. Read it because it's a message you won't hear anywhere else. Read it because it offers a provocative suggestion for how to live with the racial reality of our country. Read it because the questions raised are the questions we must grapple with. This is a book to read multiple times and to be discussed with others, and one that educators, especially, must take the time to read.

Provocative essays that engender courage and empowerment: The Unspeakable, by Meghan Daum:

"Not that I'll ever know what this story is about. I know only that I'll probably never finish telling it and it most certainly will never be whole."

Ten perfectly written, brilliantly crafted personal essays about the things we don't talk about: about our blind spots, our identities, about the need to find our voices and tell our own stories. There is little that I love more than people speaking their truths without blame or fear, with unsentimental compassion. Read and digest these slowly.

On finding meaning in suffering: Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, by Anne Lamott:

"We live stitch by stitch, when we're lucky. If you fixate on the big picture, the whole shebang, the overview, you miss the stitching. And maybe the stitching is crude, or it is unraveling, but if it were precise, we'd pretend that life was just fine and running like a Swiss watch. This is not helpful if on the inside our understanding is that life is more often a cuckoo clock with rusty gears."

How do we make sense of suffering? How can we manage the sometimes-excruciating curveballs that life throws at us? In this short book, Anne Lamott offers her humble wisdom and sharp humor again. Personally, I need annual doses of Anne Lamott and am grateful that she's a prolific writer. This one is a powerful reminder of how we cultivate resilience in ourselves individually and in communities.

For reflection, inspiration, and self-examination: The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion, by Elle Luna:

"These pages are a pep talk to honor that voice inside of you that says you have something special to give. It's a reminder that while there is no map for where you're going, many have traveled this road before. It's permission to unlearn everything you've ever been told you should do in order to learn what you must."

This is the kind of book that I need to read during a break from work when I'm reflecting on whether I'm doing the right thing. This is a book I'll reread every six or twelve months because in not-too-many words, the author makes me think.

Also know: The paper feels really good to touch. There are beautiful painted watercolor images; this is a perfect gift for so many of us.

To be reminded of the power of art to transform our hearts: Humans of New York: Stories, by Brandon Stanton:

"I died for eight minutes on January 26th. And I've been having really weird dreams ever since."

Brandon Stanton is a story collector who has photographed and interviewed tens of thousands of people in New York -- as well as abroad -- for his blog, which has some 15 million followers. Brandon uses Facebook to share these stories in a way that is truly revolutionary, and now, his stories have been compiled into a beautiful book. Brandon has found a way to take a few lines of text and an image and produce in his followers a quantity of empathy that might just transform the world. Also know: My 11-year-old read this entire book in a couple sittings. It's a page-turner even for kids.

Fiction that makes you forget everything: The Passage, by Justin Cronin:

"At first I thought maybe I was imagining things. But look at the image, Paul. A human being, but not quite: the bent animal posture, the claw-like hands and the long teeth crowding the mouth, the intense muscularity of the torso, detail still visible, somehow, after -- how long? How many centuries of wind and rain and sun have passed, wearing the stone away?"

This is well-written horror, adventure, and science-gone-bad novel -- with characters that you care about in a crafted plot. Warning: Don't start this book unless you're okay with checking out of all your worldly duties for a week or so. It's that kind of book. And also, beware: This is the first in a trilogy. The second book is out, and the third, not yet.

What will you be reading this winter? Please share in the comments section below.

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James Dittes's picture
James Dittes
English teacher from Gallatin, Tennessee

Given recent events, and the title, I would add Snow by Orhan Pamuk. It's a novel about a secular Turk's travels to eastern Turkey to investigate conflicts over the wearing of the veil by devout Muslim girls. It's one of the best novels I've read on conservative Islam.

Will M.'s picture
Will M.
Traveling the world to learn about education

Great recs. I'd like to add a couple books explicitly about teachers and teaching. Building a Better Teacher is awesome and is more a narrative than a recipe. And Teacher Wars is an illuminating history of teaching as a profession in America. And since Coates is n here I'll throw out The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. Similar themes from the 1960s but, maybe, even more powerfully written.

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