Best Books on Education

Best Nonfiction Books on Education

Best nonfiction book: “Einstein Never Used Flashcards”

Best Nonfiction Book - Einstein Never Used Flash Cards

Nonfiction books aren’t a drag anymore; they’re an indulgence. Now featured on my blog: a few notes on some of my absolute recommend-it-to-anyone favorites.

This week’s best nonfiction book: Einstein Never Used Flashcards by Kathy Hirsh Pasek and Robert Michnick Golinkoff

This is really one of the best nonfiction books out there? Why?

First of all, what a great title. And the book really delivers on it–seriously. It’s probably the starting point for homeschooling families looking for the latest information, stats and techniques on the science of learning. Whether or not you’re one of these families, read this for help facilitating your child’s education–and your own.

What will I get of this best nonfiction book that will make it worth my time?

Quite a bit, particularly if you’re a parent. And not just anecdotal stuff, but statistics, studies and cutting-edge research on how to help children help themselves learn.

A few main points:

• Play is learning.
• Asking questions and having conversations is learning.
• Memorization isn’t helpful without understanding and context.
• There are seven different kinds of intelligence. IQ isn’t everything—not even the main thing—to concern yourself with.

Where can I further investigate this best nonfiction book?

Einstein Never Used Flashcards on Amazon

Einstein Never Used Flashcards on Goodreads

Best nonfiction book: “Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book Of Homeschooling” by John Holt and Pat Farenga

Best Nonfiction Book - Nurture Shock

Best nonfiction book: Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book Of Homeschooling
Best nonfiction author: John Holt and Pat Farenga
Book summary writer: Mollie Player

Highlights from this best nonfiction book:

  • One morning in Boston, as I walked to work across the Public Garden, I found myself imagining a huge conference, in a hotel full of signs and posters and people wearing badges. But at this conference everyone seemed to be talking about breathing. “How are you breathing these days?” “Much better than I used to, but I still need to improve.” “Have you seen Joe Smith yet—he certainly breathes beautifully.” And so on. All the meetings, books, discussions were about Better Breathing. And I thought, if we found ourselves at such a conference, would we not assume that everyone there was sick, or had just been sick? Why so much talk and worry about something that healthy people do naturally?
  • If there were no other reason for wanting to keep kids out of school, the social life would be reason enough. In all but a very few of the schools I have taught in, visited, or know anything about, the social life of the children is mean-spirited, competitive, exclusive, status-seeking, snobbish, full of talk about who went to whose birthday party and who got what . . .
  • Years ago I read that one or more inner-city schools had tried the experiment of letting fifth graders teach first graders to read. They found, first, that the first graders learned faster than similar first graders taught by trained teachers, and secondly, that the fifth graders who were teaching them, many or most of whom had not been good readers themselves, also improved a great deal in their reading.
  • We can sum up very quickly what people need to teach their own children. First of all, they have to like them, enjoy their company, their physical presence, their energy, foolishness, and passion. They have to enjoy all their talk and questions, and enjoy equally trying to answer those questions. They have to think of their children as friends, indeed very close friends, have to feel happier when they are near and miss them when they are away. They have to trust them as people, respect their fragile dignity, treat them with courtesy, take them seriously. They have to feel in their own hearts some of their children’s wonder, curiosity, and excitement about the world. And they have to have enough confidence in themselves, skepticism about experts, and willingness to be different from most people, to take on themselves the responsibility for their children’s learning. But that is about all that parents need.
  • During his early years, my wife and I and a couple of friends taught him all he wanted to know, and if we didn’t know it, which usually was the case, it was even better for we all learned together. Example: at 7, he saw the periodic table of elements, wanted to learn atoms and chemistry and physics. I had forgotten how to balance an equation, but went out and bought a college textbook on the subject, a history of discovery of the elements, and some model atoms, and in the next month we went off into a tangent of learning in which somehow we both learned college-level science. He has never returned to the subject, but to this day retains every bit of it because it came at a moment in development and fantasy that was meaningful to him.
  • A very important function of institutions of so-called higher learning is not so much to teach people things as to limit access to certain kinds of learning and work. The function of law schools is much less to train lawyers than to keep down the supply of lawyers. Practically everything that is now only done by people with Ph.D.’s was, not so very long ago, done by people with no graduate training or in some cases even undergraduate training.
  • Q. I don’t want to feel I’m sheltering my children or running away from adversity. A. Why not? It is your right, and your proper business, as parents, to shelter your children and protect them from adversity, at least as much as you can. Many of the world’s children are starved or malnourished, but you would not starve your children so that they would know what this was like. You would not let your children play in the middle of a street full of high-speed traffic. Your business is, as far as you can, to help them realize their human potential, and to that end you put as much as you can of good into their lives, and keep out as much as you can of bad. If you think—as you do—that school is bad, then it is clear what you should do.
  • Q. I value their learning how to handle challenges or problems. . . . A. There will be plenty of these. Growing up was probably never easy, and it is particularly hard in a world as anxious, confused, and fear-ridden as ours. To learn to know oneself, and to find a life worth living and work worth doing, is problem and challenge enough, without having to waste time on the fake and unworthy challenges of school—pleasing the teacher, staying out of trouble, fitting in with the gang, being popular, doing what everyone else does. Q. Will they have the opportunity to overcome or do things that they think they don’t want to do? A. I’m not sure what this question means. If it means, will unschooled children know what it is to have to do difficult and demanding things in order to reach goals they have set for themselves, I would say, yes, life is full of such requirements. But this is not at all the same thing as doing something, and in the case of school usually something stupid and boring, simply because someone else tells you you’ll be punished if you don’t. Whether children resist such demands or yield to them, it is bad for them. Struggling with the inherent difficulties of a chosen or inescapable task builds character; merely submitting to superior force destroys it. 
  • This is the opposite of the “charisma” that we hear so much about. Charismatic leaders make us think, “Oh, if only I could do that, be like that.” True leaders make us think, “If they can do that, then by golly I can too.” They do not make people into followers, but into new leaders. The homeschooling movement is full of such people . . .
  • The elephant in the jungle is smarter than the elephant waltzing in the circus. The sea lion in the sea is smarter than the sea lion playing “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” on some instrument. The rat eating garbage in the slums is smarter than the rat running mazes in the psychology lab. The crawling baby, touching, handling, tasting everything it can reach, is smarter than the baby learning, because it pleases his mother, to touch his nose when she shows him a card with NOSE written on it.
  • Intelligence, as I wrote in How Children Fail, is not the measure of how much we know how to do, but of how we behave when we don’t know what to do. It has to do with our ability to think up important questions and then to find ways to get useful answers.
  • This ability is not a trick that can be taught, nor does it need to be. We are born with it . . .
  • For instance, a British study, described in the book Young Children Learning, compared tapes of the conversations of working-class parents with their four-year-old children to those of nursery school teachers with four-year-olds. It revealed that the children who stayed home asked all sorts of questions about a diverse number of topics, showing no fear of learning new words or concepts. The children under the care of professional teachers had much less range of thought and intensity, and they asked much fewer questions . . . 
  • One thing I’ve found useful, when helping kids go through this process, is to make three lists. One list is for things that come easily, things that you would do anyway, whether or not you sat down and made a plan about them. The second list is for things that you want to work on but feel you need some help with—maybe suggestions of ways to pursue the activity, or maybe some sort of schedule or plan regarding it. The third list is for things you want to put aside for a while, things you don’t want to work on right now.
  • Nonetheless, we continue to raise the level of fear of failure in our schools as the best means for creating “good citizens,” which is the ultimate legal reason that society compels children to attend school.

For more information on this best nonfiction book, see:

Teach Your Own on Amazon

Best nonfiction book: “The Home School Source Book” by Jean and Don Reed

Best Nonfiction Book - Home School Source Book

Best nonfiction book: The Home School Source Book
Best nonfiction author: Jean and Don Reed
Book summary writer: Mollie Player

Best nonfiction book? Why?

I like the down-home feel of this homeschooling idea book.

Best nonfiction book? What’s in it?

Before the Internet, there was The Home School Source Book, a collection of cool homeschooling ideas and resources.

A few quotes that I like from the congenial husband and wife authors:

“We have never used any form of punishment with our children, and they have never given us an ‘discipline’ problems that couldn’t be resolved with discussion.”

“Our kids always know that we expect only good behavior from them—not because of bribes or threats, but because we know they have no natural desire to break or lie or cheat or steal.”

The authors also note that when it comes to homeschooling, they try not to teach their kids as such, but instead to “spur on” learning, which is welcomed by the kids. They offer appropriate and specific praise rather than flattery.

For more information on this best nonfiction book, see:

This information still to come.


Best nonfiction book: “Instead of Education” by John Holt

Best Nonfiction Book - Instead of Education

Best nonfiction book: Instead of Education: Ways to Help People Do Things Better
Best nonfiction author: John Holt
Book summary writer: Mollie Player

Best nonfiction book? Why?

John Holt is a from-the-heart writer with a beautiful writing voice. His love of and respect for children is sweet to read, and his perspective on education is revolutionary. I also love the striking examples he uses.

Best nonfiction book? What’s in it?

Instead of Education makes the argument that the educational system we’re used to is almost totally flawed. Learning should be a self-guided process that is only assisted by caring facilitators.

A few main points:

  • We learn by doing. Period.
  • Carrots and sticks—rewards and punishments—don’t work.
  • Learning is not separate from life.
  • There are little-s schools and big-s Schools. Big-s Schools are pedantic, threatening, forceful and don’t offer choice. In little-s schools, all students are free at all times to do or not do, participate or not participate, leave or go. There are no attendance records, no tests, no grades. Teachers are not lecturers, but guides.

A few examples of occurrences at little-s schools that Holt visited:

  • Summerhill was a makeshift school furnished with little more than beer crates. Most of what happened there during the day was simply conversation and reading. In the morning there was dancing and drums and other physical activity directed by the kids. The school keep attendance records but there was no punishment when someone didn’t come. Watching was considered an important activity, and teachers admitted what they didn’t know.
  • Once at Summerhill, Holt saw a new boy hit a girl. Though the girl was slightly hurt, she didn’t cry to the teacher. The other kids sympathized with her but did not reprimand the boy; instead, they felt sorry for him and acted as if they assumed that he would soon learn to behave better.
  • In another example, another new boy “. . . did one thing over and over again. He heated his nail red hot and stuck it into a piece of wood, which charred and smoked . . . I have never sensed more violence and anger in a child . . .” The teachers said nothing, allowing him to work through what he needed to work through. “Two years later, when I next visited the school, he was a peaceful, kind, happy child . . .”

For more information on this best nonfiction book, see:

This information still to come.


Best nonfiction book: “Unschooling Rules” by Clark Aldrich

Best Nonfiction Book - Unschooling Rules

Best nonfiction book: Unschooling Rules
Best nonfiction author: Clark Aldrich
Book summary writer: Mollie Player

Best nonfiction book? Why?

Unschooling Rules isn’t just about unschooling. It’s about all kinds of teaching situations—about the art of learning through exploration. What could be more inspiring than that?

Best nonfiction book? What’s in it?

Unschooling is the term commonly used to describe a way of homeschooling that is highly play-based and child-led—what some would call “organic” learning. Unschooled kids don’t do worksheets, and may or may not attend formal classes. They just do things and learn along the way.

The rules:

  • Do what you love.
  • Use microcosms as much as possible.
  • Use internships.
  • Embrace all technologies.
  • Excel is awesome for math.
  • Formally learn only what will be reinforced in the next 14 days.
  • Explore first. Play second. Teach third.
  • Only work on one or two subjects per day.
  • Keep a focused journal.
  • Underschedule.
  • Play outside.

For more information on this best nonfiction book, see:

This information still to come.

Best nonfiction book: “Learning All the Time” by John Holt

Best Nonfiction Book - Learning All the Time

Best nonfiction book: Learning All the Time
Best nonfiction author: John Holt
Book summary writer: Mollie Player

Best nonfiction book? Why?

John Holt is John Holt. That is why it’s the best. He is just a hard-rocking dude. Seriously, though, if you have any interest in homeschooling or just better understanding children, this is the book for you.

Best nonfiction book? What’s in it?

Kids are their own kind of genius. Just give them a good, positive environment in which to learn and grow, and see what happens. That’s the theme of this and many of Holt’s books on education.

Some tips:

  • The best way to teach a child to read: don’t. Read to him, let him be exposed to books, give him books as gifts, until one day they ask to do the reading. Then read the book together, one word at a time, unsystematically. General pronunciation rules are too often broken to be worth teaching.
  • Good learning book: Let’s Read by L. Bloomfield & C. Barbara and Gnys at Work [sic] by Glenda Bisser.
  • For learning times tables, make a grid and let the child fill it in at her own pace, without correcting it. Keep it on the fridge, and have her do it over and over.

Notable quotes:

  • “Anytime that, without being invited, without being asked, we try to teach somebody else something . . . we convey to that person, whether we know it or not, a double message. The first part of the message is: I am teaching you something important, but you’re not smart enough to see how important it is. Unless I teach it to you, you’d probably never bother to find out. The second message is: What I’m teaching you is so difficult that, if I didn’t teach it to you, you couldn’t learn it.”
  • The author’s first elementary school believed in lots of praise. The result: “By the time I came to know them in the 5th grade, all but a few of the children were so totally dependent on continued adult approval that they were terrified of not getting it, terrified of making mistakes.”
  • Babies do not learn in order to please us, but because it’s their instinct and nature to want to find out about the world. If we praise them in everything they do, after a while they are going to start learning, doing things, just to please us . . . The next step is that they are going to become worried about not pleasing us . . .”
  • “What children want and need from us is thoughtful attention. They want us to notice them and pay some kind of attention to what they do, to take them seriously, to trust and respect them as human beings. They want courtesy and politeness, but they don’t need much praise.”

For more information on this best nonfiction book, see:

This information still to come.




Best nonfiction book: “Punished by Rewards” by Alfie Kohn

Best Nonfiction Book - Punished by Rewards

Best nonfiction book: Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes
Best nonfiction author: Alfie Kohn
Book summary writer: Mollie Player

Best nonfiction book? Why?

Who would’ve thought that offering rewards is a horrible way to motivate someone to learn? Kohn, a well-known proponent of self-directed education, makes just this argument—and just may change everything you think you know about prizes, trophies, gold stars—even grades.

Best nonfiction book? What’s in it?

Behaviorism—the idea that human behavior can and should be controlled through externally motivating factors—is our cultural paradigm, and its legitimacy goes largely unquestioned. But this is not the only way to motivate kids to learn, and certainly not the best one.

Rewards and punishments are sometimes effective, but mostly just in the short-term; long-term, they often backfire.

There are five main reasons for this:

  • They manipulate. People don’t like to be manipulated, told what to do.
  • They rupture relationships. People begin to do nice things for rewards rather than out of true altruism and caring.
  • They don’t get to the root of the problem. They don’t help us discover why the “bad” behavior or lack of desire to learn is there in the first place.
  • They discourage risk-taking. They cause people to not want to fail.
  • And, most important: They cause people to lose interest in a task for its own sake. Learning, one of the most natural pleasures of the human experience, is no longer considered fun.

The author tells the story of old man who paid kids to tease him, then gradually lowered the payment. After a while, when the payment was lowered to just one cent, they lost interest and stopped.

Learning declines when learning activities are extrinsically motivated.

Verbal praise is one of the most-used rewards, and one of the most problematic.

The reasons for this include:

  • It signals low ability. When kids are praised for something they did easily, or something they did poorly, it makes them feel they’re being treated like a child or an idiot.
  • It causes praise addiction. Praising a child’s intelligence, for example, causes them to create an unhealthy identification with their intelligence that makes them afraid to fail, especially in front of others.
  • It reduces interest in a task. Kids who are overly praised for a particular activity assume the praise is meant to get them to do something they wouldn’t do otherwise. This assumption causes them to no longer desire to perform the activity.
  • Praise is a way to keep children dependent on us. It’s a shortcut—an external motivator that appears internal.


  • When you praise, praise specific tasks or effort. Don’t praise intelligence or skill in general. Make praise as specific as possible.
  • Avoid phony praise.
  • Avoid praise that sets up a competition.

This challenge also applies to the workplace. We think we can motivate people externally, but we can’t. We can only set up conditions in which their inner drive/motivation is able to thrive.

How to do this? Studies support using the 3 C’s:

  • Collaboration (give them good people to work with);
  • Content (give them meaningful work); and
  • Choice (give them autonomy).

For more information on this best nonfiction book, see:

This information still to come.