Must Read List

The following are readings that we believe are essential for anyone with an interest in education. We each have many favorite books (I mean many), and it was not easy to select no more than two items that we believed everyone should read. We did it as an exercise for ourselves and to make it a usable list.

We will offer new titles every six months or so, just enough time for you to read all these titles, right? Feel free to add your one or two titles that you believe everyone with an interest in education should read or your reflections on these readings in the comment section.

All the best,

The Cooperative Catalyst Crew


Martin, R. L. (2009). Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking.

Medina, J. J. (2009). Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School.


Confucius. (1971). Confucian Analects, The Great Learning & The Doctrine of the Mean (New Ed ed.). New York: Dover Publications.

The Earth Charter


Reynolds, A. (2010). House of Suns. New York: Ace.

Sergiovanni, T. J. (1996). Moral Leadership: Getting to the Heart of School Improvement (The Jossey-Bass Education Series). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Berger, R. (2003). An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship in Schools. Chicago: Heinemann.

Dennison, G. (1999). The Lives of Children: The Story of the First Street School (Innovators in Education). Chicago: Boynton/Cook.


Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Chicago: Ballantine Books.

Kohn, A. (2000). The Schools Our Children Deserve: Moving Beyond Traditional Classrooms and “Tougher Standards”. New York: Mariner Books.


Llewellyn, G., & Silver, A. (2001). Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education With or Without School (1 ed.). New York, NY: Wiley.

Pope, D. C. (2003). Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students (New Ed ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press.


Ruf, D. L. (2005). Losing Our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind. Scottsdale: Great Potential Press.

Schlechty, Phillip C. (2002) Working on the Work: An Action Plan for Teachers, Principals, and Superintendents. (The Jossey-Bass Education Series). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Linchpin, Seth Godin

Rework, Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson



24 thoughts on “Must Read List

  1. Great List…. If you are interested in other books I recommend check out this pic or video

    If you ever want to have a book chat….let me know…. I love to talk about books and education!


    Posted by dloitz | May 9, 2010, 9:17 pm
  2. For those who are interested in An Ethic for Education by Ron Berger.

    Here is a link to an article about him from edutopia.


    Posted by dloitz | May 11, 2010, 11:05 pm
  3. Gatto, John Taylor, Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher’s Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling , Canada: New Society Publishers

    Posted by James | May 19, 2010, 8:30 am
  4. Deborah Meier, The Power of Their Ideas.

    Posted by Sue VanHattum | May 19, 2010, 11:20 am
  5. Seymour Papert. Anything, but start withMindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas.
    Paolo Freire, a MUST. Anything, but start with Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

    Posted by Laura Webber | May 19, 2010, 6:58 pm
    • Laura, I remember reading Freire in grad school – that was way too early for me. I was far too smug to make anything of it. Yeesh. I cringe at the memories. However, I also read Patricia Hersch’s A Tribe Apart, and that book has stuck with me and informed my thinking in every phase of my career.

      We’ve written a lot about pedagogical transformation; is it better to start novice teachers off with the Freires and Illiches of education, or with the Hersches, Popes, and Roses? Is there a middle ground? Are novice teachers closer to kids’ stories and more apt to teach responsively to kids’ disappointments with school than with reformists’ insights? Which books are good at bridging those two worlds – the world of school confessional and the world of school reform? I’m reading Holt’s How Children Fail; perhaps that is such a book.

      What do you think, Coöp Family?


      Posted by Chad Sansing | May 19, 2010, 8:48 pm
  6. Chad, one of the main frustrations I felt in ed school was the total failure to examine the fundamental assumptions of the education system as it currently exists. I remember asking about the charter school movement in my social foundations class (this was the early 90s) and was quickly and quietly dismissed. If it were me, I would start with Freire, Illich, and Holt. But I tend to be a conceptual thinker and respond well to authors who paint in broad strokes. Others may respond more viscerally to something like A Tribe Apart and need the reality-check that that text provides before questioning fundamental assumptions. It’s easy to dismiss Freire if you find the lives of the Brazilian underclass irrelevant to 21st century America. I, for one, don’t (Ha!)… but maybe that’s just me? 🙂

    Posted by Laura Webber | May 19, 2010, 9:26 pm
    • Laura,

      I am very happy to have you a part of these discussions as you are adding a wonderfully rich perspective.

      I was fortunate to go to Goddard College which does start by examining the basic assumptions of the education system. Each conversation I have there leaves me with many more questions, and strangely enough an ever more resolute core sense about what changes are needed. I started with Herbert Kohl, John Holt, John P. Miller, and Paulo Freire as some of my very first readings, along with Thomas Berry, David Sobel, Bill Plotkin, and David Orr. As for Freire I think the only time it is “easy” to brush his work off is when it is convenient for you as a member of a privileged class, ever more so a privileged economic class. Nothing like a little Freire in the morning to get me fired up for the day!

      Posted by Adam Burk | May 20, 2010, 9:49 am
      • Adam–I’ve always admired Goddard; they’ve been on my radar for years! I think a program like theirs would’ve been more suited to me, as opposed to the status-quo, preserve-business-as-usual teaching certificate I got at local State U.

        I wasn’t sure at first that examining basic assumptions would be a good place to start, but I am more and more convinced that a Goddard-style program is the way to go. If you really think about it, most of us already know the status-quo, business-as-usual because it’s what we experienced growing up.

        Examining the assumptions frees up the imagination. And imagining alternatives should be more a part of a teacher’s repertoire than maybe what has been valued in the past.

        Perhaps we need to examine teacher preparation as closely as we are examining students’ experiences. Are we preparing teachers to continue operating the machine? Or to transform the machine into something more organic and humane, something that lives and breathes and responds?

        May favorite classes in my teacher prep program were the social foundations and philosophy of education classes. I only got to take two of those. But now, over a decade later, I think they inform my teaching more than my methods classes. Whatever methods were “hot” at the time have now faded, but my thoughts and practice continue to be anchored by my readings of Plato, Rousseau, and Dewey.

        Posted by Laura Webber | May 26, 2010, 8:34 pm
  7. Here is one that I don’t believe can wait six months until I put it up there!

    The, Worldwatch Institute. State of the World 2010: Beyond the Consumer Culture. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010. Print.

    This book discusses the pivotal shift needed in our culture from consumerism to sustainability. It contains sobering data and discusses various sectors of society’s role in the transformation including education.

    Posted by Adam Burk | May 20, 2010, 9:43 am
    • Adam,
      Could you synopsize or share a bit about what is says the role of education is in shifting from consumerism to sustainability? Would like a “teaser” if you will. Most of the others I have heard of or know a bit about–this one’s new to me. Thanks!

      Posted by Paula White | May 31, 2010, 8:46 am
      • From the opening of the section on eduction:

        For a shift from consumerism to occur, every aspect of education-from lunchtim and recess to class work and even the walk home-will need to be orientated on sustainability. Habits, values, preferences-all shaped to a large degree in childhood. And throughout life, education can have a transformative effect on learners. Thus, harnessing this powerful institution will be essentials in redirecting humanity towards cultures of sustainability.

        No education system is value-neutral, but all teach and are shaped by a certain set of ideas, values, and behaviors, whether that be consumerism, communism, religious beliefs, or sustainability. As UNESCO states, “Education is not an end in itself. It is a key instrument for bringing about the changes in knowledge, values, behaviors, and lifestyles required to achieve sustainability and sustainability within and among countries, democracy, human security and peace. Hence it might be a priority to reorient educational systems and curricula towards these needs. Education at all levels and in all its forms constitutes a vital tool for addressing virtually all global problems relevant for sustainable development.”

        (The, Worldwatch Institute. State of the World 2010: Beyond the Consumer Culture. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010. Print.)

        It goes on to praise early childhood education as a model for integrated curriculum, with a focus on the skills and context necessary for such a transformation.

        The whole book offers tremendous data (some of it very scary, some of it hopeful), and provides numerous examples of individual and collective actions that can contribute to a sustainable society. In this way the larger book serves as a tool to educate ourselves, to facilitate discussions, and provides the larger context necessary to understand what kind of world our education systems have to be aligned to.

        Posted by Adam Burk | May 31, 2010, 9:08 am
  8. We need to update this list. Maybe each add a new one or two along with having a growing list.

    Posted by David Loitz | August 2, 2010, 3:22 pm
    • Here are acouple more with a cognitive twist:

      McGilchrist, I. (2009). The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. Yale University Press.

      Metzinger, T. (2010). The Ego Tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self (First Trade Paper Edition.). Basic Books.

      Both have profound implications for everyday teaching and living.

      Posted by Terry Elliott | August 3, 2010, 10:57 pm
  9. From Deb Meier

    * Maybe we need to add in a few books that remind us what powerful learning is all about—like Eleanor Duckworth’s classic The Having of Wonderful Ideas, or Samuel Freedman’s compelling narrative Small Victories about one teacher in one school, or any of Robert Fried’s books on “The Game of School” or Mike Rose’s description of the power of a certain kind of schooling to enlarge our minds in Lives on the Boundary—among many. Probably we should add someone like Richard Rothstein to the list of “musts”—someone tacking the connection between schooling and economics. Now I’m stacking the deck in my favor!

    Posted by dloitz | October 14, 2010, 12:50 pm
  10. I’d like to add “The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education” by Grace Llewellyn—witty, inspiring, wise. I don’t have a teenager, I’m not a teenager myself, and yet I read this recently and found it delightful.

    Posted by Mindy | August 27, 2011, 12:48 am
  11. Love the video of the stack of books. I have read books on education my whole life and have a few to add. Full disclosure: I’m a book publisher and these are books my company publishes that I haven’t seen mentioned here (though some of the books I publish, like two by John Holt, I saw in the video). The Happy Child: Changing the Heart of Education, by Steven Harrison, is about responding to children’s need for learning through our relationships to them and through recognizing their inherent freedom. If Holden Caulfield Were in My Classroom: Inspiring Love, Creativity, and Intelligence in Middle School Kids, by Bernie Schein, is an account of how this masterful teacher gets kids to open up about their personal truth and discover what they really want. Bonus is a foreword by the novelist Pat Conroy. And finally, Lives of Passion, School of Hope How One Public School Ignites a Lifelong Love of Learning, by Rick Posner, tells the story of a public school that has been democratically run for forty years, how and why it works so well, and how its graduates have fared in their lives.

    Posted by Connie Shaw | January 19, 2012, 1:56 pm
  12. I’m enjoying the lists people have posted, though a lot of it is what I’d expect. I’d like to go outside what we might expect here for one suggestion, and think more broadly about what it means to be an educated person for a second suggestion. Both of my offerings are essays, and they are the two most important essays I’ve read in my life, insofar as essays having anything to do with education. (Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience would be up there in terms of readings about duty and morality…but that’s not for here.)

    So I’d like to first suggest “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings” by William James. James spends several paragraphs quoting from and discussing a piece by Robert Louis Stevenson called “The Lantern Bearers.” The imagery therein, and how James applies Stevenson’s memories is sublime poetry. Here’s a sample (this is James quoting Stevenson):

    “…the ground of a man’s joy is often hard to hit. It may hinge at times upon a mere accessory, like the lantern; it may reside in the mysterious inwards of psychology. . . . It has so little bond with externals . . . that it may even touch them not, and the man’s true life, for which he consents to live, lie together in the field of fancy. . . . In such a case the poetry runs underground. The observer (poor soul, with his documents!) is all abroad. For to look at the man is but to court deception. We shall see the trunk from which he draws his nourishment; but he himself is above and abroad in the green dome of foliage, hummed through by winds and nested in by nightingales. And the true realism were that of the poets, to climb after him like a squirrel, and catch some glimpse of the heaven in which he lives. And the true realism, always and everywhere, is that of the poets: to find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing.”

    “For to miss the joy is to miss all. In the joy of the actors lies the sense of any action.”

    Nothing I’ve ever read in any education text approaches the beauty of this. And the imagery from which it proceeds, Stevenson’s description of the lantern bearing boys who hide a bulls-eye lantern under their coats, late at night, seeking out each other and the burning, hidden pleasure they carry which binds them together…this the “joy” of their lives…I know of nothing better to excite me to the understanding that we must see more in our students than “the trunk.” How many people who teach “miss the joy” because they don’t know how to look, are too busy in their own lives, or too focused on the curriculum? I’ve done it. It is impossible not to, I imagine. But James and Stevenson are my saviors, and their images return me to focus on and seek out the joy in my students.

    But I’ll not stop there. If we forget that we, as teachers, must understand our own joy (that “for which we consent to live”) we become mere mouth pieces for curricula. All of the best teaching proceeds from our joys just as all of the most meaningful learning connects to and creates joy.

    The second piece I recommend is “Only Connect: The Goals of a Liberal Education” by William Cronon. The article clearly lays out why I teach as well as the goal of my teaching. It originally appeared in The American Scholar, the publication of the Phi Beta Kappa society (which would certainly make sense, given the subtitle). Here’s a sample:

    “A liberal education is not something any of us ever achieve; it is not a state. Rather, it is a way of living in the face of our own ignorance, a way of groping toward wisdom in full recognition of our own folly, a way of educating ourselves without any illusion that our educations will ever be complete.”

    Posted by Garreth Heidt | February 11, 2012, 6:11 pm
  13. I was surprised that I didn’t see these on any of the lists so far.

    “Toward a Theory of Instruction” and ” Acts of Meaning” by Jerome Bruner, there is a lecture that Dr. Bruner delivered for Teachers College at Columbia in ’07 that is free on iTunes U that is spectacular!

    Also, “Homo Academicus”, “Outline of a Theory of Practice” or my favorite (shorter and more easily digestible collection of essays and articles) “Sociology is a Martial Art” all by Pierre Bourdieu.

    Currently reading Dr. Gene Glass, “Fertilizer, Pills, and Magnetic Strips: The Fate of Public Education in America”, he is definitely more cynical in view of the systematic forces at play, but he puts forth a compelling case.

    Posted by S. Dwight Parker | January 2, 2013, 5:26 pm


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