Reimagining education: A back to school reading list

An accessible guide to school choice, a history of personalized learning, and more

The final days of summer are upon us and learning is in the air. Among our featured list of books to ring in the new school year is a classic 1971 work on the fundamental purpose and function of schools (translated into English and published in a free, open access edition); a fascinating look at the high schools of tomorrow; and an evidence-based examination of the ways in which biases can creep into hiring and evaluation systems and a pragmatic guide to how universities can achieve their dual ideals of diversity and excellence.


Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning by Audrey Watters

Teaching Machines

Contrary to popular belief, ed tech did not begin with videos on the internet. The idea of technology that would allow students to “go at their own pace” did not originate in Silicon Valley. In Teaching Machines, education writer Audrey Watters offers a lively history of predigital educational technology, from Sidney Pressey's mechanized positive-reinforcement provider to B. F. Skinner's behaviorist bell-ringing box. Watters shows that these machines and the pedagogy that accompanied them sprang from ideas—bite-sized content, individualized instruction—that had legs and were later picked up by textbook publishers and early advocates for computerized learning. 

“Teaching Machines is a vital cultural history of our desire for a technical solution to the fundamentally social problem of how to make education work for all families. Watters has written the rare book that is necessary, important, and readable.” —Tressie McMillan Cottom, Associate Professor at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of Thick: And Other Essays


The Evidence Liberal Arts Needs: Lives of Consequence, Inquiry, and Accomplishment by Richard A. Detweiler

The Evidence Liberal Arts Needs

In ongoing debates over the value of a college education, the role of the liberal arts in higher education has been blamed by some for making college expensive, impractical, and even worthless. Defenders argue that liberal arts education makes society innovative, creative, and civic-minded. But these qualities are hard to quantify, and many critics of higher education call for courses of study to be strictly job-specific. In this groundbreaking book, Richard Detweiler, drawing on interviews with more than 1,000 college graduates aged 25 to 65, offers empirical evidence for the value of a liberal arts education. Detweiler finds that a liberal arts education has a lasting impact on success, leadership, altruism, learning, and fulfillment over a lifetime.

“Richard Detweiler weaves together a rich historical context, insights from contemporary global institutions, and a unique set of original research data into a compelling case for the value of liberal arts education to both individuals and societies." —Sean M. Decatur, President of Kenyon College


Workforce Education: A New Roadmap by William B. Bonvillian and Sanjay E. Sarma

Workforce Education

The American dream promised that if you worked hard, you could move up, with well-paying working-class jobs providing a gateway to an ever-growing middle class. Today, however, we have increasing inequality, not economic convergence. Technological advances are putting quality jobs out of reach for workers who lack the proper skills and training. In Workforce Education, William Bonvillian and Sanjay Sarma offer a roadmap for rebuilding America's working class. They argue that we need to train more workers more quickly, and they describe innovative methods of workforce education that are being developed across the country.

“Bonvillian and Sarma make a clear and convincing case for the necessity and potential of this new path. Their work will appeal to a broad readership, particularly those interested in policy change for social good.” —Library Journal, starred review


The Distributed Classroom by David A. Joyner and Charles Isbell

The Distributed Classroom

What if there were a model for learning in which the classroom experience was distributed across space and time—and students could still have the benefits of the traditional classroom, even if they can't be present physically or learn synchronously? In this book, two experts in online learning envision a future in which education from kindergarten through graduate school need not be tethered to a single physical classroom. The distributed classroom would neither sacrifice students' social learning experience nor require massive development resources. It goes beyond hybrid learning, so ubiquitous during the COVID-19 pandemic, and MOOCs, so trendy a few years ago, to reimagine the classroom itself. With The Distributed Classroom, Joyner and Isbell offer an optimistic, learner-centric view of the future of education, in which every person on earth can be a potential learner as barriers of cost, geography, and synchronicity disappear.

The Distributed Classroom is a masterpiece by leading practitioners of online learning.” —Barbara Oakley, Distinguished Professor of Engineering, Oakland University


Running with Robots: The American High School's Third Century by Greg Toppo and Jim Tracy

Running With Robots

What will high school education look like in twenty years? High school students are educated today to take their places in a knowledge economy. But the knowledge economy, based on the assumption that information is a scarce and precious commodity, is giving way to an economy in which information is ubiquitous, digital, and machine-generated. In Running with Robots, Greg Toppo and Jim Tracy show how the technological advances that are already changing the world of work will transform the American high school as well.

“This gem of a book creatively stimulates the reader to think about what an ideal education is going to look like in the years and decades ahead. Every educator will read it with pleasure and come away with new and useful perspectives.” —Stephen M. Kosslyn, President, Active Learning Sciences, and Chief Academic Officer, Foundry College 


An Inclusive Academy: Achieving Diversity and Excellence by Abigail J. Stewart and Virginia Valian

An Inclusive Academy

Most colleges and universities embrace the ideals of diversity and inclusion, but many fall short, especially in the hiring, retention, and advancement of faculty who would more fully represent our diverse world—in particular women and people of color. In this book, Abigail Stewart and Virginia Valian argue that diversity and excellence go hand in hand and provide guidance for achieving both. Stewart and Valian, themselves senior academics, support their argument with comprehensive data from a range of disciplines. They show why merit is often overlooked; they offer statistics and examples of individual experiences of exclusion, such as being left out of crucial meetings; and they outline institutional practices that keep exclusion invisible, including reliance on proxies for excellence, such as prestige, that disadvantage outstanding candidates who are not members of the white male majority.

“This book provides real solutions and concrete actions that can be taken to make academia more welcoming.” Los Angeles Review of Books Blog

Read an excerpt on The MIT Press Reader. 


Critical Thinking by Jonathan Haber

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is regularly cited as an essential twenty-first century skill, the key to success in school and work. Given our propensity to believe fake news, draw incorrect conclusions, and make decisions based on emotion rather than reason, it might even be said that critical thinking is vital to the survival of a democratic society. But what, exactly, is critical thinking? In this volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, Jonathan Haber explains how the concept of critical thinking emerged, how it has been defined, and how critical thinking skills can be taught and assessed.


School Choice by David R. Garcia

School Choice

The issues and arguments surrounding school choice are sometimes hijacked to make political points about government control, democratic ideals, the public good, and privatization. In this volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, David Garcia, Associate Professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University and a former Arizona Associate Superintendent of Public Instruction, avoids partisan arguments to offer an accessible, objective, and comprehensive guide to school choice.


Handbook of Game-Based Learning edited by Jan L. Plass, Richard E. Mayer and Bruce D. Homer

Handbook of Game-Based Learning

This book offers a comprehensive introduction to the latest research on learning and instruction with computer games. Handbook of Game-Based Learning is based on empirical findings and grounded in psychological and learning sciences theory. The contributors explore research on whether (and how) computer games can help students learn educational content and academic skills; which game features (including feedback, incentives, adaptivity, narrative theme, and game mechanics) can improve the instructional effectiveness of these games; and applications, including games for learning in STEM disciplines, for training cognitive skills, for workforce learning, and for assessment. The Handbook offers an indispensable reference both for readers with practical interests in designing or selecting effective game-based learning environments and for scholars who conduct or evaluate research in the field.


Schools and Screens: A Watchful History by Victoria Cain

Schools and Screens

Long before Chromebook giveaways and remote learning, screen media technologies were enthusiastically promoted by American education reformers. Again and again, as schools deployed film screenings, television programs, and computer games, screen-based learning was touted as a cure for all educational ills. But the transformation promised by advocates for screens in schools never happened. In this book, Victoria Cain chronicles important episodes in the history of educational technology, as reformers, technocrats, public television producers, and computer scientists tried to harness the power of screen-based media to shape successive generations of students.

“An important and timely look at the social history of screens and the very long-running battles over whether they'll ruin or save education.”  Audrey Watters, author of Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning


If Schools Didn't Exist: A Study in the Sociology of Schools by Nils Christie

If Schools Didn't Exist

This classic 1971 work on the fundamental purpose and function of schools belongs on the same shelf as other landmark works of the era, including Ivan Illich's Deschooling Society, Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and John Holt's How Children Fail. Nils Christie's If School Didn't Exist, translated into English for the first time, departs from these works by not considering schooling (and deschooling) as much as schools and their specific community and social contexts. Christie argues that schools should be proving grounds for how to live together in society rather than assembly lines producing future citizens and employees.


Techno-Vernacular Creativity and Innovation: Culturally Relevant Making Inside and Outside of the Classroom by Nettrice R. Gaskins

Techno-Vernacular Creativity and innovation

The growing maker movement in education has become an integral part of both STEM and STEAM learning, tapping into the natural DIY inclinations of creative people as well as the educational power of inventing or making things. And yet African American, Latino/a American, and Indigenous people are underrepresented in maker culture and education. In this book, Nettrice Gaskins proposes a novel approach to STEAM learning that engages students from historically marginalized communities in culturally relevant and inclusive maker education. Techno-vernacular creativity (TVC) connects technical literacy, equity, and culture, encompassing creative innovations produced by ethnic groups that are often overlooked.

“What hip hop pioneers did for the auditory world, Gaskins does for the physical world: an explosive remix of grassroots creativity, high-tech appropriation and deep heritage resonance, with implications ranging from STEM education to social justice movements.” Ron Eglash, Professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan 


Gender(s) by Kathryn Bond Stockton

Gender(s)

In this volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, Kathryn Bond Stockton explores the fascinating, fraught, intimate, morphing matter of gender. Stockton argues for gender's strangeness, no matter how “normal” the concept seems; gender is queer for everyone, she claims, even when it's played quite straight. And she explains how race and money dramatically shape everybody's gender, even in sometimes surprising ways. Playful but serious, erudite and witty, Stockton marshals an impressive array of exhibits to consider, including dolls and their new gendering, the thrust of Jane Austen and Lil Nas X, gender identities according to women's colleges, gay and transgender ballroom scenes, and much more.

"Stockton presents an accessible, witty and contemporary examination of the true queerness of genders and gendering." Ms.


Featured JournalEducation Finance and Policy

Education Finance and Policy (EFP) publishes policy-relevant research papers concerning education finance, policy, and practice. The journal draws from a range of fields—including economics, political science, public administration and policy, law, and education—covering topics that span from early childhood to graduate education in the United States and around the world.


Explore more of the MIT Press’s books on education