Book Reviews

Recommended Books about Education  

Teaching as a Subversive ActivityTeaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Teaching as a Subversive Activity” puts forth ideas about education that are radical, controversial, bold and fresh. It suggests eliminating syllabi, formal curriculum and textbooks from education settings. It introduces ideas of student-centered learning over teacher-centered teaching, and leading students to learn by asking questions, not by teachers giving lectures. The book was first published in 1969—considered radical among educators then, and today.

Hands down it’s on of the most challenging, thoughtful, practical books I’ve read about transforming education. I read it on the heels of “A New Culture of Learning” the book by John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas published in 2009 (my review here). The books complement each other well; Brown and Thomas write about learning in a digital age though don’t provide specific strategies. Postman and Weingartner do. The principles in “Teaching as a Subversive Activity” are applicable and relevant today just as they were forty-five years ago—how to change education where students learn how to think, to detect ‘crap’, and to learn how-to-learn that continues beyond high school and higher education.

I highlight and share with readers three themes from the book, still relevant in today’s digital culture: 1) facilitating ‘crap detection’, 2) what’s-worth-knowing? and 3) bold proposals. There are more than these three within the book’s 218 pages, and I plan to address at least two in future posts. One readers may find interesting is the authors’ perspective on teacher education—the methods associated with teaching content. Postman and Weingartner suggest that content and method, are considered separate processes in teacher education programs, which is according to them, the wrong approach. This idea is compelling. Look for this post in the weeks to come.  Visit to read my entire review.

image of book coverThe Culture of Education, by Jerome Bruner.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Culture of Education presents nine thought-provoking essays on the subject of cultural psychology and its implications for education. The essays embody Bruner’s experience, knowledge and wisdom of the science of learning, and culture’s influence on teaching and learning.  A scholar of psychology, Bruner defines cultural psychology as a system that describes how humans make sense of their world. A cultural approach to education describes how the mind works—the science of learning with culture. In Bruner’s words the theory of education lies at the intersection “between the nature of mind and the nature of culture”.

The essays are still relevant in today’s context with the abundance of educational technology. Bruner provides a unique construct for thinking about technology. He describes how humans make sense of the world—where learning and thinking are dependent upon cultural settings and the use of cultural artifacts. Thinking of educational technology as artifacts of culture, and learning as dependent on culture—puts technology in a different perspective. Technology as part of culture suggests education needs to embrace technology, as according to Bruner learning is always dependent upon the cultural setting and its resources. Technology in education settings, as many have already argued, needs to be closely linked with pedagogy (Anderson & Dron, 2011Okajie et al., 2014).  For the full review click here.

The Digital Scholar: How Technology is Transforming Academic PracticeThe Digital Scholar: How Technology is Transforming Academic Practice by Martin Weller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every aspect of scholarly practice is seeing changes effected by the adoption and implementation of new technologies (Weller, 2011). It is the effects that Weller speaks of that are challenging traditions and creating rifts within the academic world. “The Digital Scholar” explores how technology is transforming higher education and not only describes the possibilities for new forms of scholarly practice, but suggests how educators can become part of that possibility.

Weller addresses every aspect within academia [including publishing and research], how each is changing, and incorporates suggestions of how-to adapt to each. Educators will be better prepared to handle change, and even use it to their advantage when they are familiar with how a given technology is influencing an established practice within academia.

Though this book is available from Amazon in various formats (e-book, softcover and hardcover), you can read it free of charge through Bloomsbury Academic [Bloomsbury publishes a select number of its research publications under open content licenses].

I highly recommend this resource for educators working within Higher Education. At least one chapter, if not more, would be relevant to educators, whether technology devices are used or not. The author writes from the perspective not of the user of technology, but from the academic practice’s point-of-view, and how it is affected by technology. A subtle but effective approach that sheds light objectively on the changes within each scholarly area. I am optimistic that each reader will find something of interest and value.

The One World Schoolhouse: Education ReimaginedThe One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined by Salman Khan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am a big fan of Khan Academy. I introduced my youngest two teenagers to Khan’s videos when they were struggling with their Calculus homework, which they shared with their friends…then their classmates and finally their teachers. That is when I knew Khan Academy was going to be big—when an online platform that I thought was useful and ‘cool’, was good enough to be endorsed by my kids.

Which is why I read the book The One World School House: Education Reimagined written by the founder himself, Sal Khan. Khan shares how Khan Academy came to be by tutoring his niece, and how he eventually quit his job as hedge fund analyst to launch Khan Academy and filmed hundreds of videos in his closet. What comes through the pages is the passion Khan has for education, his drive to transform, and provide “a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere” (Khan, p 4). In this post I’ll provide a brief overview of the book, but I focus on Khan’s vision for classrooms of the future, for an education system that is almost a Utopian one, featuring the ‘ideal’ where students learn and grow at their own pace, at no cost, anywhere in the world.

Khan’s vision of higher education is grounded not in grades and transcripts, but in work experience, hands-on experience with lengthy internships of five or six months where students work in meaningful positions where skills are learned and applied alongside experts in the field. These are not summer, make-work projects, but paid positions. Between internships, students don’t attend lectures but study, learn, and collaborate, yet take rigorous assessments to show that they can go deep in certain academic areas (p 152). My full review:

In addition, I’ve compiled a reading list for 2014: Seven Must-Read Books about Education for 2014, and for 2015: Seven Must-Read Books about Education for 2015.

1 thought on “Book Reviews

  1. Nicole Hart

    This book is an essential read for educators, especially teachers of elementary students, parents and administrators because it touches on and explores numerous issues that educators are dealing with today.



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