For a long time now, I’ve tried to hold a few hunches at the forefront of my brain when I’m reading and writing:
- The world of today isn’t as different from the world of yesterday as we think it is.
- The messes we find ourselves in right now are better addressed when we consider that they’re not necessarily new messes.
- We keep making the same mistakes because we don’t know our history.
You get the idea.
I was working on an article with some colleagues about a year ago when I realized that my hunches were more than hunches. They were certainly true for my own disciplines of language arts and technology.
The more I dig back, too, into history, or, at least, the stuff that was written in the past on many of the issues facing us as educators right now, the more I’m certain that time spent reading the work of before is worth doing. And every twenty minutes, someone publishes a “revolutionary” look at the world and how to fix it that completely ignores history. We don’t know our history. And it’s killing us.
I’m thinking it’s time to start a book club. Well, at least a reading club. Lots of what I suspect we’d read aren’t complete books.
So I’m pretty sure that my main objectives for a project like this would be basically encouraging educators and folks who impact education to better understand their history. In my reading and writing and thinking, I’ve come to discover that people1 are pretty much ignorant of anything educationally relevant that happened more than ten or twenty minutes ago. And we keep having the same conversations. And forgetting the outcomes. Then doing it again.
So to that end, I think it’d be interesting to start with texts that are from at least twenty years or so ago – that seems to be a magical, and completely arbitrary, number, but one that’s at least an interesting place to start. Texts like these:
- Committee of Ten Report (Some choice excerpts from my rereading – not yet done – here.)
- Slate and Black Board Exercises
- The Teaching of Arithmetic
I’ve got more, and there’re plenty of places to draw these texts from, but you get the idea, I think. The Web is littered with our predecessors’ work. Somebody should dust it off and take a peek every once in a while.
The logistical questions are basically, what and how and when? I think it’d be valuable to set some reading tasks, some deadlines, and offer a place or way to talk – might be a Twitterchat, or a Google Hangout discussion forum, some blog posts with comments or common tags – but just basically try to build a small group of folks who wanted to read these things together and talk about them. Might be interesting to bring some “experts” in modern stuff to talk about their reactions to the texts as guests, too. We’ll see how that shapes up.
So. There’s the basic skeleton of what I’d like to do. I’d want book club participants to read with questions like these in mind:
- What are the lessons from yesterday? Did we apply them? What did we lose or forget along the way from the text’s time to now?
- What parallels can we draw to now? What’re the essential bits of importantness that we should return to the world by blogging/writing/tdalking about them?
- Can yesterday’s lessons help us call “bologna”2 on some of the reformy stuff happening right now?
Audrey Watters has graciously agreed to co-host a Hangout or two as we figure out what this might look like.
If you’d like to play along, here are two things you can do:
- Grab a copy of the Committee of Ten Report. That’ll be our first text. Start reading and annotating and taking notes. If the whole thing’s too much for you, I’d encourage you to start with the opening overview and then pick the report from the discipline that you’re most interested in.
- In the comments, please let me know if you’re interested, and share any suggestions that you might have for texts or topics or logistical details. I’d humbly suggest we tag anything related to this book club idea as #eduhistory. But you might have a better idea.
Audrey and I are comparing calendars for a Google Hangout for our first live discussion. Look for an update once we have that nailed down. I hope you’ll consider reading and writing and thinking with us.