The Top 5 Books In Your Library (Right Now!)

We often get requests for reading material from people who want to learn more about what we are doing and why changing the status quo of our education system is so necessary. The topic is so wide and varied that there are literally hundreds of books out there on education reform, each advocating for something just a little bit different from the last.

Our resource page is a great place to start, but for those looking for a good, straightforward read that reflects our philosophy, here are the top five books on learning that are available right now through your local library (VIRL).


Free to Learn, Peter Gray
“When compelled, we do the minimum necessary to meet requirements. Everyone, regardless of age, prefers freedom and self-direction to rigid control by others. It is interesting that people often forget these obvious points when thinking about children.”

Our Facebook followers will recognize Peter Gray’s name from the many links to his blog on Psychology Today where he discusses ethical education and the shortfalls of our conventional education system. Free to Learn is an easy, addictive read that really paints a clear picture of what education should look like. This book is an incredible asset to the alternative education community; if you’re only going to read one book on the topic, make it this one!


Summerhill School, A.S. Neill
“What is education? I say it is, among other things, forming character from the inside, not the dictated character of grammar schools.”

Summerhill is the oldest and longest-running democratic school in the world. It’s founder, A.S. Neill, believed that children should be free to choose their own educational path and that success is determined by happiness, not qualifications. Neill often said that he’d rather his school produce “a happy street sweeper than a neurotic prime minister.”


What Every Parent Should Know About School, Michael Reist
“We need to remember just how artificial the environment of school is. When else in human history have twenty-five ten-year-olds spent six or seven hours in a room together with one adult presiding? We take the situation as normal, and we see the child who has trouble functioning within that situation as a problem.”

Michael Reist’s book is a straightforward look at the reality of public schools. Written non-linearly with the intention of being easy to digest, this book asks the questions that need to be asked and also has a great chapter on the effects of compulsory education on a child’s mental wellbeing.


The Happy Child: Changing the Heart of Education, Steven Harrison
“Education systems presume that children need to be fixed, but are they broken? Are they not already expressing what we say we want to get from our education system- curiosity, creativity, and communication? Are they not already building skills, acquiring information, and effectively socializing at a pace that far exceeds the adults?”

Another book full of thought-provoking questions and full of the author’s ideas on what needs to be done to not only the education system, but also on what inner work society needs to do on what it truly means to “be educated”.


How Children Fail, John Holt
“It is not the teacher’s proper task to be constantly testing and checking the understanding of the learner. That’s the learner’s task, and only the learner can do it. The teacher’s job is to answer questions when learners ask them, or to try to help learners understand better when they ask for that help.”

No alternative education/unschooling booklist is complete without some tried, tested, and true John Holt. Often referred to as “the grandfather of education”, John Holt is a classic with a touch of brutal honesty and has experience on his side when it comes to the values of rethinking education.