As someone who teaches literacy to young people, I emphasize reading widely on a daily basis. It’s also something that I take seriously in relation to how I understand education itself. Here, I offer some questions to help you think through what you read in the same spirit that teachers offer questions to help us think through what we do in the classroom. I also put this forward in the spirit of support and encouragement. While we will find a strong push for teachers to take risks by blogging or tweeting more, we also need encouragement and support to read more widely.
This piece is an experiment for me. I wrote it fairly quickly and hope that it is taken as the start of a conversation and not an authoritative guide.
How often do you pick up new terms, theories, and tools?
If your readings feature the same key terms over and over again (creativity, lifelong learning), then you are stuck in a rut. I have been there and know that breaking out will require some active work.
Try making a list of the new terms and theories you have learned about in the last few years (obviously, this will not look the same for scholars who have spent a long time studying in a field). For example, in the last year or so, I have learned about precarity, waithood, and terminology for talking about visions of the future. I see a long path of growth ahead while at the same time acknowledging that I can’t keep up in the same way that professional scholars can.
As a first step, it makes sense to follow other people who actively care about expanding the range of what they read. Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega has created a hashtag #ScholarSunday that can help you find a wide array of people to follow on Twitter.
If you read the bibliography, how many new sources do you find?
If the authors you read mainly refer to each other and form a small, closed circle, that’s a problem. But when you start to read books that have wide and deep bibliographies, then you quickly open up new paths for yourself. As an example of the kind of bibliography you should find, Keri Facer’s Learning Futures has left me with a good year’s worth of reading (and her book is only 134 pages long!). Notice the range of terms in the titles of the works:
Fielding, M. (2009) ‘Interrogating student voice: pre-occupations, purposes and possibilities’, in H. Daniels, H. Lauder and J. Porter (eds), Educational Theories, Cultures and Learning: A Critical Perspective. London: Routledge, pp. 101–16.
Giroux, H. (2009) ‘Disposable future: dirty democracy and the politics of disposability’, in H. Svi Shapiro (ed.), Education and Hope in Troubled Times: Visions of Change for our Children’s World. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 223–40.
Lee, N. M. and Motzkau, J. F. (2011) ‘Navigating the Bio-Politics of Childhood’, Childhood: A Global Journal of Child Research, 18(1).
Morgan, K. and Sonnino, R. (2008) The School Food Revolution: Public Food and the Challenge of Sustainable Development. London: Earthscan.
Qidi, W. (2006) ‘Creative industries and innovation in China’, International Journal of Cultural Studies, 9, 263.
Sidorkin, A. (2009) Labor of Learning: Market and the Next Generation of Educational Reform. Rotterdam and Taipei: Sense Publishers.
Do you encounter new ways of framing issues?
The dominant discourse about education is about preparation for the future economy (backed by Thomas Friedman’s ‘flat world’ theory of globalization), and shifting towards a more passion-based, anti-authoritarian classroom. What have you read recently that frames education in relation to: the labor of teaching, movements for sustainability, rising inequality and capitalism, racism and mass incarceration, disability and access, or gender and care work? Re-thinking Schools is a great place to start.
Does your reading open you up to new issues?
While I spend a lot of time reading deeply about issue that already matter to me, a good program of reading should help you frame new issues and see new problems. As I have read more about the Universal Basic Income, critiques have helped me see new issues around the UBI as a mask for the erosion of the welfare state (listen to Helen Hester, Nick Srnicek, Jamie Woodcock at the LSE starting around 1:00:00).
Finding the time…
Teachers in K-12 education do not have the same connections with scholarly communities or time and resources that university professors do. It’s much easier to listen to the latest TED talk that someone tweeted than to track down books and articles, not to mention less expensive. It’s worth asking academics for copies of their papers, using ResearchGate or Academia.edu, and looking on bookzz.org for what you want to find (if after reading a chapter it’s good, I then buy the book).
We can’t expect ourselves to experts in all the issues that could possibly affect the future of education, but reading widely should help us ask new and better questions.