So Let’s Start An #eduhistory Book Club, Then?

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:

  1. The world of today isn’t as different from the world of yesterday as we think it is.
  2. The messes we find ourselves in right now are better addressed when we consider that they’re not necessarily new messes.
  3. 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:

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  1. Myself included. []
  2. Or baloney.  Or something stronger, if you’d like. []

35 thoughts on “So Let’s Start An #eduhistory Book Club, Then?

  1. One goal of such an effort that I would appreciate would be to make a video of the google hangout available online for people to benefit from even if they don’t have time to read through some of the more dense texts. One goal should be to make the relevant and important aspects of these texts more accessible so that more people can learn from them.

  2. I love this idea. I’ve looked at bits of the Committee report, but now have a reason to dive in more fully. Are you taking suggestions for books to add? If so, may I suggest “Tinkering Toward Utopia” by David Tyack & Larry Cuban, and “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” by Diane Ravitch. Thanks!

  3. I think this is a great idea. I’m wondering, though, if in many cases, is it always that we don’t know our history? Or is it that we keep making the same mistakes because we didn’t LEARN from the mistakes of the past? I think about this often, and it seems to be true in all areas of human interaction, not just education. Regardless, I’m definitely interested in exploring the history with everyone. Count me in.
    Michelle Baldwin (@michellek107)´s last blog post ..Making the Learning Great

  4. I think this is a wonderful idea and I’m so nerdily excited about it. (Bookclubs tend to do that for me, but an education book club… Well, it’s almost too much!)

    Ha, but yes, I’m also really impressed that this idea was first formed by someone simply questioning and challenging what’s popular. I have my own doubts about a lot of the rhetoric in higher education at the moment and the different movements, but I’m also excited by a lot of what’s going on so I always feel unsure. I don’t want to get caught up in the hype but I don’t want to miss out on the important conversations either. Like anyone, I want to make informed decisions when forming my opinions and diving deeper into the history of education–and getting a collection of perspectives from various experts–is something that’s really needed right now. Ha, well it’s what I need. It’s nice to know other people are craving the same thing.

    So what I’m trying to say is I’m all in and excited to learn more. Thanks for taking the initiative. If you need any extra help, let me know.


  5. Awesome to see so many replies here! Stephen Downes has also suggested (via his reposting of this on OLDaily) that we tackle Horace Mann and Rousseau.

    @davidwees: I vote we meander. Chronology is so overrated. 🙂

  6. I think one aspect of the history of education that’s mostly overlooked is the influence of corporate business interests. In Denise Gelberg’s 1997 book The “Business” of Reforming American Schools, it’s noted that it was business interests who won out over the reformers at the beginning of the 20th century, and are very much players today, though with a different set of talking points. This might not be what ed tech advocates want to hear, but educating students with the goal of getting them jobs is an approach that has serious issue.

  7. Thank you all – lots of great suggestions and thoughts here. I’m going to start a couple of documents for us to use as well as fiddle around with some community space – a project I’ve been neglecting is the perfect fit for a little of that. I’ll have a post up in the next couple of days moving things along. But a couple of comments here, too.
    1. This’ll be non-linear – and picking a place to start always highlights all the places we didn’t, so keep thinking about texts and stuff we should read – one doc I’ll create is a maste list just to get all the good ideas down. I can’t imagine we’d go one time period to another lockstep. What fun would that be?

    2. There are plenty of suggestions I’ve gotten here and elsewhere that are good synthesis texts – what I’d call secondary or tertiary sources. I’d like to gently suggest that, at least for a few reads, we look at primary texts – not new responses to old things, but the actual “old things” themselves. At least for a little while.
    3. While Audrey and I will likely facilitate some of this conversation, there’s no rule, now or ever, that says that folks have to read the same thing or have the same conversation. So if another text screams to you, “You must read me now!”, then by all means read it. If more old stuff gets read, I’m a happy guy. More soon. Rock on, y’all.

  8. Bud,

    This is an interesting idea- thinking about how we got to the low orbit work learners do in schools today reflects a variety of branching choices and decisions made over time for different reasons. Understanding the whys behind the design of teaching places, the dominant pedagogies we use today, and the structures of personnel, management, discipline, text gives us a context for making sense of how to move from the whys of the past to the whys of our future. I’d like to be involved in a hangout. Also, consider Education and Cult of Efficiency (Callahan) as a potential read at some point regarding why administrators do what they do.

  9. I would very much like to be part of this. I have been reading Kozol’s early writings and been struck by how much we haven’t learned or, like you, how often we are repeating history. I would second Glenda’s suggestion of A Nation at Risk since it did seem to sow the seeds of our modern reform.

  10. Getting to this a bit late:) Would love to be a part and suggest some surveys of Educational History be Added. One of my favorites has always been Tyack (1974) The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education Parts 1-4 give an erudite history of American Education…. Important to this group might also be Bowles and Gintis (1976, 2011) Schooling In Capitalist America: Educational Reform and the Contradictions of Economic Life, I agree with the import of Postman and would add Beane and Apple Eds. (1995) Democratic Schools and Sizer (1964) In the Age of the Academies
    Thomas Steele-Maley (@steelemaley)´s last blog post ..The Essence of Connected Learning on Vimeo

  11. Sounds like a great idea. I’m wondering if there are any good tools to help pull all of this together as it goes, because it sounds like it will be a somewhat-scattered conversation. A central Google Doc (like I think you mentioned in a comment, Bud) could be good enough to point people down the path, but if a few “dedicated curators” wanted to help, that might be useful. I’m thinking Storify or Readlists might be helpful tools for this?

  12. I’d love to join in, and would suggest some source readings on education from the history of China and Japan. Chapter 25 of could be a good place to start.

    FWIW, it would be great if we could do this someplace a bit more open than google hangouts. P2PU has a nice web-chat client that doesn’t require any special accounts. I’m sure there are plenty of others and that we’re going to end up in multiple networks and systems regardless of where we start, but I think it would be great if we could keep the central portion of activity as accessible as possible.

  13. Excellent idea. I’ll check my ed history books for othe suggestions, but the first thing that comes to mind is contacting Larry Cuban, who has forgotten more educational history than most people know. He blogs at and really is one of the wisest historians out there.

  14. Hola! I’ve been reading your site for some time now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Huffman Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the great job!
    Kristi´s last blog post ..Kristi

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