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14 Books Christian Educators Should be Reading

Written on November 9th, 2013
In the spirit of Justin Tarte’s list of books worth reading (Part I) (Part II), I decided I would list 14 of the more inspiring reads that I’ve come across over the past number of years.  I’ve added the qualifier “Christian” to my list identification because I think that all of these books have a level that makes them indispensable to those in Christian education.  I have also added “especially Leaders” as a potential audience as that the work for which they have been most influential to me.In no particular order:


1. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain – Maryanne Wolf
An often technical exploration of the science behind reading, but also a great means of inspiring awe around God’s gift of language, which we often take for granted.  This title not only reminds us of the importance of literacy and the justice we ought to seek for all those who are unable to read, but also reminds that a seemingly easy task like learning to read is actually a profoundly complicated task with amazing complexity. 


2.Organizational Culture and Leadership – Edgar H. Schein
As far as I know there is no better book on the history and science of this topic.  This is not pop-lit, far from it.  It’s a book for people who are serious about what empirical evidence says about what organizational culture is, how it is formed, and what leadership can and should do to influence it.  


3.The Anatomy of Buzz Revisited: Real-life lessons in Word-of-Mouth Marketing – Emanuel Rosen
I read this book as I was trying to learn more about promoting Christian schools through word of mouth marketing initiatives.  I read many and this was by far the most thorough and most academic of the bunch.  There is plenty in this book about what studies have shown to be effective means to developing the story of an organization and helping that story to be spread. 


4. Beyond Learning: Democratic Education for a Human Future - Gert J.J. Biesta
Although not an easy book to read, it is a book that changed my mind about how we approach education in general and Christian education in particular.  Although not intended for those in Christian schools, the principles of intersubjectivity woven throughout are presented in such a way that we are reminded that learning is an intimate act involving subjects and subjective matters, more so that objects and objective matters.  


5. Hearts: Treating Fundraising as Ministry - Thomas H. Jeavons and Rebekah Burch Basinger
In my work I have been pushed into fundraising as an important means of expanding programs and facilities, but also as an integral means of funding the operational expenses of the organization.  This book outlines very good practicalities regarding fundraising and does an excellent job of mandating a Christian outlook to this often ominous task. 


6.No Contest: The Case against Competition – Alfie Kohn
Alfie Kohn’s No Contest was instrumental to me in challenging the cultural norm of competitive structures in education and classroom instruction.  His argument, although at times extreme, concretized in my mind that if we’re trying to build Christian community that fosters God-given gifts, competitive structures are detrimental and destructive.  


7.Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling – Andy Crouch
If you’re like me and Creation Regained is on a pedestal on your bookshelf, then Andy Crouch’s Culture Making ought also to be on your list.  Crouch does a great job of outlining afresh what our job as Christians is in engaging culture.  


8. The Explicit Gospel – Matt Chandler
Although perhaps not profound to many Christians, The Explicit Gospel served to remind me of the simple message of the Gospel.  It was profound for me to hear that the Good News of the Gospel is only profound when juxtaposed against bad news of life without Christ.  A book that strips the gospel message back to its core. 


9. The Intolerance of Tolerance – D.A. Carson
We live in an age when any absolute truth is considered intolerant.  D.A. Carson does an excellent job of showing that those holding the view that religious people are intolerant are guilty of the same supposed crime.  In a society where faith and absolute truth are being forced out of schools, I was, through this reading, reminded afresh that in Christian education we must not give in to the prevailing cultural philosophy of pluralism.  


10. The Day Metallica Came to Church: Searching for the Everywhere God in Everything – John VanSloten
John VanSloten does an excellent job of taking the task of reforming culture seriously.  He has a neat way of teasing out that which is holy out of seemingly mundane and ordinary things.  I believe that it is integral for Christian educators to do this and so this book can be read as a sort of primer.  


11. Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success – Mathew Syed
Bounce is a book that helped me to challenge my thinking around the nurture vs. nature debate.  This debate is one that still rages implicitly in the way that we regard children and their abilities.   After reading this I am more inclined to argue that a child’s circumstances have far more to do with their gift and talent development, than innate abilities do.  An important book in forming how educators should regard children. 


12. Courageous Leadership – Bill Hybels
There are two reasons to read Courageous Leadership.  First, his statement that “to squander vision is an unthinkable sin” is one that has haunted me since I read it.  I believe that it should haunt all leaders.  Second, his section on selecting teams using the “Three C’s” has impacted how I think about recruiting new team members.  


13. The Book of Learning and Forgetting – Frank Smith
Probably the most influential book I have read regarding why we do education the way we do in the 21st Century.  Smith outlines a short history of how education is done in our current structure and then proceeds to show how it has roots in military formation.  He, of course, questions this structure and will make you rethink some of our taken-for-granted assumptions about education and schooling.  


14. The Answer to How is Yes: Acting on what Matters – Peter Block
Peter Block is a consultant who claims that when we ask how to do something we are in essence beginning with the wrong question.  Alternatively, he claims that we should (as Simon Sinek would say) start with why, start with what is important to you or the group.  He has convinced me that as leaders we need to resist the temptation to start every conversation with the logistics, and rather begin with answering why. 

Bonus Points

15. The Big Switch: Rewiring the World from Edison to Google, The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains – Nicolas Carr, Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us - Andrew Keen, You are not a Gadget: A Manifest – Jaron Lanier
All of these books challenge an unquestioning faith in technology and explore what digital technology is doing to our brains at a neurobiological level.  An important facet of these arguments is an examination of how social media may created less creativity and collaboration instead of more.

16. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison – Michel Foucault
Although it is difficult to read, you’ll never think about power, discipline, and punishment in the same way again.

To read more from Paul, visit www.paulmarcus.ca