Why We Should Read More About the History of Education

Opinion |

Why We Should Read More About the History of Education

Weekly sessions on the history and philosophy of education during 4.0 Schools’ Launch

By Matt Candler     Jun 10, 2014

Why We Should Read More About the History of Education

Starting this week, we will host 16 courageous, thoughtful people in the ninth cohort of 4.0 Launch.

Christine Ortiz, who’s leading the design team for this cohort, dared me to facilitate a class on the history and philosophy of education, citing a personal desire to know more about the basic underpinnings of how we look at education in the US.

I fell for it. And after spending the last few weeks pinging my better-read friends and colleagues about the effort, I’ve accepted that I know far less about this vast topic than I should. Many wise people precede us in the pursuit of better, fuller experiences in schooling for children.

We should listen to them.

Speaking of wise people, since I met him about ten years ago, I’ve periodically asked Howard Fuller, the founder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, for reading recommendations. Every time I ask, James Anderson’s The Education of Blacks in the South tops the list.

In that book, which the original 4.0 Launch cohort read together in the summer of 2011, I first read about the New Orleans-based Pioneer School of Freedom, started by African-Americans. In 1860. Two years before northern benevolent societies started working their way through the South and three years before the Emancipation Proclamation.

As a white man from the North (Atlanta is the North to New Orleans natives--just ask) working to make schools better in 2014, I need to know that story. That story makes me swallow hard about the profound nature of the work I and other educators do every day. I should pay closer attention to the soil beneath me, and the courage shown by those who flattened it out--courage to overcome fears and threats I’ll never face.

That story illuminates modern attempts to improve schools in New Orleans in many ways, on many levels. Reading and discussing is one of many ways to start understanding why many African-Americans who grew up in New Orleans justifiably feel condescended to, and often left out of, current efforts to fix the schools that serve their children.

We owe it to the kids we teach, the families we serve, and the educators who’ve gone before to understand the context in which we are working.

And if understanding the Pioneer School of Freedom legacy can help us do our work better in New Orleans, maybe Socrates’ take on friendship and wisdom can improve the rigor of debate on Common Core. Maybe Dewey and Rousseau can make us smarter about personalization and ed-tech.

When the emails finally poured in from friends and colleagues, the list of books was so long, and so awesome, that I just gave up on narrowing it down to the three or four. I split up the books based on combinations that I thought would yield interesting dinner conversation.

Here’s an excerpt from my introductory note to the group on what everyone has to do with the books between now and July:

Your job is to get us all as smart as we can about the books you read. In our first July session, you’ll be given 3 minutes to present the key takeaways and concepts from each of your books. You’ll also prepare a one-page cheat sheet on each book from which we’ll create a 30 page doc summarizing the collection. I’m psyched about having that in my back pocket over the next few years…

I can’t wait to hear what Monique Wilson says about Dan Willingham, Aristotle and Douglass Rushkoff. Or what Luk Hendrik tells us about Jawanza Kunjufu’s book, An African Centered Response to Ruby Payne’s Poverty Theory and Jonathan Zimmerman’s The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory.

I’m as excited about this as anything we’ve done so far at 4.0, not because I know what will happen, but because I’ve got no idea. All I know is that I’ll be spending time exploring important questions with passionate, capable people committed to learning from one another.

As a wise friend (he’s my brother, too) said about Aristotle’s view on wisdom: “If you’re going to become wise you need to have good friends who are either wise or trying to learn how to be.”

I hope that’s what Launch feels like.

A summer reading list

Here’s the list of what we’re reading. If you’ve got any good additions or suggestions, please let me know! You can find me at mcandler@4pt0.org or @mcandler.

  • The Education of Blacks in the South. Anderson, James
  • The Ethics of Aristotle. Aristotle
  • The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, And The Attack On America's Public Schools. Berliner, David C.
  • The Innovator's Dilemma. Christensen, Clayton
  • Shop Class as Soulcraft. Crawford, Matthew
  • Seven Myths About Education. Christodoulou, Daisy
  • As Good As It Gets: What School Reform Brought to Austin. Cuban, Larry
  • Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom. Cuban, Larry
  • Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. Delpit, Lisa
  • Democracy and Education. Dewey, John
  • The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois, W. E. B.
  • Mindset. Dweck, Carol
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire, Paulo
  • Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner, Howard
  • Greenfield Schooling. Hess, Frederick
  • The Same Thing Over and Over. Hess, Frederick
  • The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children. Hirsch, Jr. E. D.
  • The Schools We Need: And Why We Don't Have Them. Hirsch Jr., E.D.
  • An African Centered Response to Ruby Payne's Poverty Theory. Kunjufu, Dr. Jawanza
  • Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families. Lukas, J. Anthony
  • The Republic. Plato
  • The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. Ravitch, Diane
  • The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way. Ripley, Amanda
  • The Way We Were?: The Myths and Realities of America's Student Achievement (Century Foundation/Twentieth Century Fund Report). Rothstein, Richard
  • Emile. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques
  • Program or Be Programmed. Rushkoff, Douglas
  • 2 of Horace's Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School. Sizer, Theodore R.
  • Tinkering toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform. Tyack, David
  • A nation at risk: The imperative for educational reform: A report to the Nation and the Secretary of Education, United States. US Department of Education.
  • Up from Slavery. Washington, Booker T
  • Race Matters. West, Cornel
  • The Aims of Education and Other Essays. Whitehead, Alfred North
  • Why Don't Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom. Willingham, Daniel T.
  • Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory (Icons of America). Zimmerman, Jonathan
Learn more about EdSurge operations, ethics and policies here. Learn more about EdSurge supporters here.

More from EdSurge

Get our email newsletterSign me up
Keep up to date with our email newsletterSign me up