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Diane's summer reading


Editor's note: While Deborah Meier travels in China, Diane Ravitch shares some quick thoughts and recommendations from her summer reading list. The Bridging Differences dialogue will return soon.

With Deborah safely in China, I can now turn to my summer reading.

I am trying to start a new book, so I am reading quite a lot of books about the business model in education and also books about American business. The classic in this genre is Raymond Callahan's "Education and the Cult of Efficiency," which I will re-read. I am currently reading Larry Cuban's "The Blackboard and the Bottom Line: Why Schools Can't Be Businesses."

I have a stack of books that I plan to read this summer, as I am sure all of us do. Of course, some of our summer reading should be pure froth, and—in that category—I just finished reading Stefan Kanfer's "Ball of Fire," a very enjoyable biography of Lucille Ball, one of my favorite comedians.

If you want to learn more about the issues that Deborah and I have been debating, you can read our books. For example, Deborah Meier's "The Power of Their Ideas" or my book, "Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform." By the way, I am often asked why the subtitle on that book is different in the hardcover and the paperback. It is because the editor from Simon & Schuster insisted on the original subtitle ("A Century of Failed School Reforms"). She thought that the word "failed" had to be somewhere in the title, and I didn't want it at all. I thought that the book was about the great debates and controversies in American education in the past century, and she was thinking about marketing. She let me change the subtitle for the paperback. If I had had my way, which I didn't, I would have made the subtitle for the book: "Anti-Intellectualism in American Education," because I saw it as a follow-up to Richard Hofstadter's 1962 classic "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life." But my editor, a powerful figure in the publishing industry, said that any use of that nine-syllable word would send the book crashing into the remainders pile immediately.

Here are a few books that I strongly recommend: E.D. Hirsch Jr.'s "The Knowledge Deficit." This book does a fine job of explaining why children's achievement tails off between fourth grade and eighth grade. And I highly recommend two books from the wonderful Jeanne Chall: "Learning to Read: The Great Debate" and "The Academic Achievement Challenge." If every educator read Chall's book on reading, there would be no more reading wars. Similarly, her last book, which was published shortly after her death, sums up everything she had learned about the research on achievement. Everything she wrote was leavened by her wisdom and common sense.

Enjoy your summer vacation. When Deborah is back, we'll be in the same place, same time, trading blows and bouquets.



Thanks. Hopefully next year I'll be able to read some of those books when I finish up some other things I'm in the middle of.

Please keep up the conversations.


Thanks for the post. It was strangely comforting to know that even "deans" of the field, like yourself, get cornered by editors. Seeing your original thoughts on the "anti-intellectualism matter" have inspired me to want to read Left Back.

- TL


Re: school reform, I recommend Richard Gibboney's book THe Stone Trumpet for a Deweyan treatment of school reform efforts since the 1950s.

Re business books, Jim Collins' Good to Great is a must read. HOwever, you must also read his follow-up monograph in which he addresses applications of the "greatness" principals in the social sector.

Good morning, Diane,

I think it fair to say that you and I are at opposing ends of the continuum with respect to our views of children's literature. I'm an American Indian (tribally enrolled at Nambe Pueblo, in New Mexico), former school teacher, currently an assistant professor in American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign.

I study the ways that American Indians are presented in children's books, analyzing and critiquing those representations and the politics that enable society to maintain the status quo. By that, I mean misrepresentation, bias, stereotyping.

I've just found your blog this morning, and will be a reader. I hope you will find time to read mine.

It is called American Indians in Children's Literature, and it is located at http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com.

I teach a course called Politics of Children's Literature at UIUC. We read selections from your book, THE LANGUAGE POLICE.


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