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    John Warner is the author of Why They Can't Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities and The Writer's Practice: Building Confidence in Your Nonfiction Writing.

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Books to Give the Educator in Your Life for the Holidays

Books make great gifts. Some personal recommendations. 

December 5, 2019
 
 

Books make great holiday gifts. Please consider giving these titles tor the educator(s) in your life.[1]

All of the West Virginia University Press Teaching and Learning Series Books

The series, overseen by James Lang (Small Teaching, Cheating Lessons), is (as the kids used to say, but probably don’t anymore) killing it.

The 2019 titles I’ve read, Geeky Pedagogy: A Guide for Intellectuals, Introverts, and Nerds Who Want to Be Effective Teachers by Jessamyn Neuhaus, and Intentional Tech: Principles to Guide the Use of Educational Technology in College Teaching by Derek Bruff, both offer valuable insights into the day-to-day work of teaching.

Geeky Pedagogy essentially helps one ask and answer the paired questions of “Who am I?” and, knowing that, “How should I teach?” One of the toughest parts of teaching for me early on was finding a persona that was both genuine and suitable for the classroom. Neuhaus offers a lens through which to ask and answer these questions plus much, much more. It’s a wonderful tool for reflection, even for experienced instructors.

Regular readers know I am something of an ed-tech skeptic, which makes me appreciate Intentional Tech even more. Bruff starts with the pedagogical principles and goals rather than the tech, and then offers help in how to think about how tech may enhance those goals. I think I most appreciate Bruff’s willingness to share his own experiences and experiments with class technology, illustrating how these integrations will always be an ongoing process.

College Made Whole: Integrative Learning for a Divided World by Chris W. Gallagher[2]

This book answers the great “unbundlers” who believe postsecondary education can be reduced to credential or even microcredential providers. It’s an argument for an approach to education where the whole is definitely larger than the sum of its parts, particularly focused on institutional structures and how they can be shored up to meet our desired goals and values.

Generous Thinking: A Radical Approach to Saving the University by Kathleen Fitzpatrick[3]

While College Made Whole tends to work from a top-down approach, this book looks at the status of the university from the bottom up, rooted in how scholars approach their work and their relationships with other scholars, students and the broader community. “Generous thinking” is a mode where we are focused on community over individual, values over achievement. Reading this book made me hopeful for change, because what Fitzpatrick proposes is doable with fairly small shifts in thinking and resourcing. It’s a book about reorienting, rather than reinventing.

Care at the Core: Conversational Essays on Identity, Education and Power by Sherri Spelic

I first encountered Spelic’s work via Twitter and soon made a habit of reading her deeply thoughtful reflections on the work of teaching and how it intersects with the communities we work within. Each essay unfolds as an act of Spelic’s self-discovery that she’s simultaneously sharing with the world. As a model of reflective practice, it would be hard to do better.

The Missing Course: Everything They Never Taught You About College Teaching by David Gooblar

I’m just going to repeat the blurb I was pleased to provide for the book: “If David Gooblar’s The Missing Course existed back when I was first in a college classroom, it would’ve saved me many hours of angst, and resulted in significantly improved experiences for my students. Even being more than twenty-five years removed from those days, I found the book an invaluable source of insight and wisdom on what it means to work with students. We’ve needed this book for a long time, and I’m glad it has finally arrived.”

Also, see my Q&A with David Gooblar.

The Meritocracy Trap: How America’s Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite by Daniel Markovits

The book ranges beyond (well beyond) higher education, but higher education is identified as one of the systems that has been corrupted by what Markovits believes is a misplaced faith in meritocracy. A Yale law professor, Markovits has spent more than his share of time in the belly of the elite institution beast and is deeply concerned about what he finds there and what it has meant to the rest of us.

For more, you can read my brief joint review at the Chicago Tribune of the book and another higher ed-related title I found much less compelling.

The Fire Is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate Over Race in America by Nicholas Buccola

I have used a video of James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Jr. debating in 1965 at the Cambridge Union many times in my courses, so reading this deeply researched and insightful accounting of the work and writing of the two men in the years prior to that meeting was deeply fascinating.

I’ve been wanting to write in detail about this book since I read it, but as of yet I haven’t come up with anything that adds to Paul Thomas’s review/response that you can read here.

Still in Love by Michael Downing

The campus novel has a long and venerable tradition, but rarer is the classroom novel, a book focused almost entirely on the dynamic between professor and students over the material of the course. Still in Love is the story of Mark Sternum, a creative writing professor of many years grappling with what it means to be teaching in middle age, while negotiating his relationship with and to the Professor, his co-teacher. I found it a balm to my teaching soul.

[1]Or for yourself. There’s nothing wrong with giving a gift to yourself.

[2]Disclosure: This book is published by Johns Hopkins University Press, which is my publisher for Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities, which, like all JHUP books is currently 40 percent off if you buy direct and use the code HHOL.

[3]Disclosure: Also published by JHUP.

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