Throughout the month of November, Kim from Sophisticated Dorkiness and Leslie from Regular Rumination are hosting a series of excellent posts promoting all things nonfiction. The topic of this week’s post prompt is:
Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Share a list of nonfiction books on a topic you know a lot about. Or, ask for some advice for books on a particular topic. Or, put together a list of nonfiction books on a topic you’re curious about.
(Please click on the graphic to find all the great links to other blog posts covering a wide variety of nonfiction topics!)
I decided to share a list of books that deal with education, as it’s a topic that’s close to my heart. I grew up in a family of educators, and was a teacher myself for nine years. I’m back in the field now in a different capacity—I work in the marketing department of a large educational publishing company. The books I chose for this list aren’t educational theory books—they’re all behind-the-scenes accounts (one of my favorite genres!) of various types of schools or other educational venues. None of them are of the warm, fuzzy, everything is wonderful variety–I feel that they all tell it as it really is. I own copies of all of these books and have read each one multiple times. All of them have made me think. Ready? Here they are, in no particular order:
Among Schoolchildren by Tracy Kidder.
Published in 1989, this book has become a classic in the “inside the classroom” genre. The author spent a year sitting in a fifth grade classroom in Holyoke, Massachusetts—this is the story of what happened that year. What I love about this book is that it isn’t always warm and fuzzy—the teacher loses her temper at times, she sometimes second-guesses herself, and every kid doesn’t finish the year in a happy ending. But she cares about those kids and that comes through on every page.
Tested by Linda Perlstein
High-stakes testing is a reality in today’s American schools. Schools are expected to behave like businesses and are judged almost solely on the bottom line—test scores. This book reports—in sometimes heartbreaking detail—what the administration and teachers of one Maryland elementary school feel they must do to ensure continued high scores. The questions that are raised are truly thought-provoking: what are the rewards and costs of doing whatever it takes to hit those magic numbers—and what’s the ultimate effect on the students taking those tests?
Homeschooling: A Patchwork Of Days edited by Nancy Lande
This book did a lot to change my opinions about homeschooling and the families who participate in it. It consists of thirty essays written by thirty families. Each selection explains why that particular family chose to homeschool, their daily routines, their successes, and their challenges. The families come from all over the US and a few are from other parts of the world. Some families are homeschooling two children, there are some families with seven kids—and every combination in between. Some families knew they’d be homeschooling since their children were born—others tried traditional school and, for a variety of reasons, have transitioned to homeschooling. None of the essays try to paint a perfect picture of the homeschooling experience! This is my go-to suggestion when I’m talking with people who have questions about homeschooling or who are trying to decide whether or not to homeschool their children. It certainly opened my eyes to a lot of new views on the topic and, while I’m not sure that I would ever choose to homeschool, I think I have a more well-rounded opinion of those who do.
And Still We Rise: The Trials and Triumphs of Twelve Gifted Inner-City Students by Miles Corwin
This book not only tracks the lives of a dozen high school students in an inner-city Los Angeles school, but also provides a fascinating account of two very different teachers. The accounts of the kids’ lives are riveting, but, to me, the main story was of the two English teachers—one a volatile rebel with some real demons in her past, the other a no-nonsense maternal figure. Both expect a great deal from their students, and both have students who are absolutely devoted to them. The reader is left to judge which of them is ultimately the more effective teacher.
All Girls: Single-Sex Education and Why It Matters by Karen Stabiner
I used to be very vocally against single-sex classes and schools. My argument was—the real world isn’t a single-sex world, so how can we fully prepare our students for the future in single-sex schools? This book made me a lot more open to the idea that single-sex education does have a place in today’s society. It tracks one year in two all-girls schools—an elite prep school in Los Angeles, and a charter school in New York City. It’s a compelling read and it made me really examine my beliefs in this area—and isn’t that what good nonfiction is supposed to do?
The Gate-Keepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College by Jacques Steinberg
This is a behind the scenes account of how colleges—in this case, Wesleyan University in Connecticut– make their admissions decisions. The author spent eight months as an observer in the admissions office at Wesleyan and followed one admissions officer in particular as he recruited, selected, and rejected students for the future graduating class of 2004. Several high school seniors who applied to Wesleyan that year are also followed. This isn’t a how-to book on how to get accepted to the college of your choice, but it does provide an inside look at how one elite university views its applicants and the difficult and sometimes heartbreaking decisions they need to make. I had no idea of what this type of job consisted of until I read this book.
Relentless Pursuit: A Year In The Trenches With Teach For America by Donna Foote
This book follows four Teach For America recruits who are placed in the same inner city high school. With no teaching background other than an intensive summer “boot camp” training program, these recent college grads are put in charge of classrooms of struggling, disadvantaged students and are expected to deliver results. I knew very little about the Teach For America program before I read this book and, although it raised a lot of questions for me about the program, I admired the dedication of the teachers who were profiled. I’d like to know if they ended up remaining in education or if they moved on to other pursuits.
Small Victories by Samuel G. Freedman
This may be my favorite book on this list, possibly because I used to teach high school myself. It’s the story of a year in the life of a New York City Language Arts/Humanities high school teacher in the late 1980s and the students that pass through her classroom doors. The book provides personal stories of some of these students while also giving what I feel is a very accurate picture of the sacrifices, successes and disappointments that dedicated teachers face every day. Parts of this book were truly heartbreaking. I often wonder what the teacher who was the focus of this book is doing today.
Losing My Faculties by Brendan Halpin
I’m including this book not only because I love the author’s writing style, but because it provides a male voice in a typically female field. It’s the memoir of a teacher who moves through a variety of teaching positions in a variety of settings—an economically depressed city schol, a middle class suburban site, a last-chance truancy prevention program, and a college-prep charter school. The author provides a sometimes brutally honest account of his successes, frustrations, and challenges–but he never loses his sense of humor.
How about you? Have you read any of these? Are there other books on this topic that you’d like to recommend? Please share!