10 Great Books about Education

A short reading list of works that have inspired the vision of Habele. Special thanks to Valerie Tarico for her thought provoking questions and extended commitment to Habele. These books represent a range of social and intellectual traditions, but all aim to answer fundamental questions about what education is for, what is the appropriate role of the state, and what can and should be taught.

10. Plato’s Republic is a utopian city state envisioned through the lectures and discussions of Socrates. Toward this end, Plato sets forth a vision of education as a coercive instrument for drawing out individual capacity and socializing citizens into the state.

9. & 8. John Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education and Of the Conduct of the Understanding are based on the Enlightenment notion that all men are born free and equal. In order to support his accompanying political and economic vision of limited government Locke saw education as the primary tool for developing individual autonomy among citizens. This autonomy, born of maturity and reason, was the foundation for claims to personal freedom and informed self-definition.

7. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile places greater emphasis on the common good, or “will” than Locke but also treats education as instrumental for developing a world view and the capacity for critical thinking.

6. John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University is a defense of universality in curriculum content. Newman also contends that formal instruction should expand individual habit of thought as well as the capacity for social and civic interaction.

5. John Dewey’s Democracy and Education embraces the instrumentality of education and wants to put the method of science into practice. Education for Dewey was ongoing and practical. He argued that democratic ideals are fundamental to a truly liberal vision of education and that such an educational system was bound to sustain and expand democratic freedoms.

4. Amy Gutmann’s Democratic Education is an argument for education as a tool for developing individual autonomy. Such autonomy, Gutmann holds, will allow all persons the ability to critically examine, reject, and/or embrace competing notions of the good. She also holds that education for autonomy inevitably promotes tolerance, pluralism, and civic responsibility.

3. Stephen Macedo’s Diversity and Distrust: Civic Education in a Multicultural Society is more cautious. Macedo worries that schooling for broad social ends inevitably results in ideological hegemony and intellectual homogeneity. He points to parents as the best arbiters of children’s educational interests, and sees public education as a minimal tool for developing respectful and cooperative self governing citizens.

2. Meira Levinson’s The Demands of Liberal Education is a deeply pluralistic defense of education for autonomy. Levinson argues that radically detached schooling ought to foster autonomy as an end in itself.

1. Harry Brighouse’s School Choice and Social Justice is an argument for greater parental control in education. Brighouse balances education for autonomy and education as a tool of equality in opportunity in laying the framework for a child-centered claim to education. Within this framework he holds that expansion of accesses and greater parental flexibility promote justice more effectively than government dominance.

The Habele Outer Island Education Fund is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of educational opportunity and accomplishment in the remote Outer Islands of Micronesia, a former US Trust Territory in the Central Pacific. Visit Habele.org to learn more!