Education reform, more education reform and David Foster Wallace

Mark’s 2016 summer reading list

reflection for educatorsThis past academic year was one of the busiest and most invigorating year I have had in my time as a student or teacher. As my role here at the Tarrant Institute has grown and focused more deeply on the research side of things, I have also been progressing towards my PhD. The summer doesn’t really provide a break, per se, but it does give me time to dive into some books I’ve been eying all year. Here’s a few things I’m making sure to get through.

Restoring Opportunity: The Crisis of Inequality and the Challenge for American Education

Restoring Opportunity by Greg Duncan & Richard Murnane, is the follow-up piece to their seminal edited volume Whither Opportunity. Whither brought together top scholars in the sociology and economics of education to bring clarity to the problems facing the US educational system. In Restoring Opportunity, Duncan & Murnane offer portraits of successful reform.

Instead of Education: Ways to Help People Do Things Better

Originally written in the 1970s by a former 5th grade teacher, Instead of Education expands and operationalizes the ideas specific to education offered by Ivan Illich in Deschooling Society, which I read last summer. This school of thought focuses on the centrality of personalized and personally-driven education while critiquing institutional approaches.

It’s a few steps further down the personalized and flexible pathways road we’re on here in Vermont.

The Future of Development, & Grassroots Post-Modernism

As a citizen of the world who lives in a post-development country, I think it is important for me to challenge (and frequently destroy) my assumptions regarding the mission and structure of “development” efforts around the world. To this end, I plan on reading The Future of Development: A Radical Manifesto by Gustavo Esteva, Salvatore Babones, & Philipp Babcicky, and Grassroots Post-Modernism: Remaking the Soil of Cultures by Gustavo Esteva & Madhu Suri Prakash.

Esteva’s writing is passionate, clear, and doesn’t pull any punches. Both of these books intersect with ideas of educational development and reform around the world, and the need for us to reconsider those efforts.

Where Mathematics Comes From: How the Embodied Mind Brings Mathematics into Being

By George Lakoff & Rafael Núñez, Where Mathematics Comes From presents the case for the natural emergence of math, and how an embodied perspective might help us learn and teach quantitative reasoning more effectively. It came up a couple of times on a listserv I subscribe to, so I am excited to check it out.

And the Tarrant Institute Summer Twitter Readalong!

Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts and Systems. I want to be part of the club!


Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.

Will this summer be the summer when I finally complete DFW’s sprawling masterwork? It’s a long shot, but it’s good to have stretch goals, right?

I hope that everyone has a great summer, and I look forward to getting back into the swing of things in August!


Mark W. Olofson

Mark is a fourth year Ph.D. candidate in the Education Leadership and Policy Studies program at the University of Vermont. He previously taught Middle and High School science and math. Mark has been with TIIE since Fall 2013.

What do you think?