Literacy’s Democratic Roots: A Personal Tour Through Eight Big Ideas

Heinemann. Sept. 2023. 232p. pap. $36.05. ISBN 9780325161150.
A compelling book on the intersection between democratic ideals, literacy, and education. With wit and wisdom, Newkirk draws upon the thinkers and shapers of literacy and education, along with his own experience and observations, and retells the history of literacy, discusses how literacy is fundamentally rooted in democracy, and talks about how these ideals can be transferred to teaching and learning in the classroom. The book details eight important parts of literacy and provides tools to implement each in the classroom. These tools include getting students to self-select what they read, allowing and encouraging students’ cultural heritage to inform their thinking and writing, and suggesting that teachers forgo rigid assignments in favor of those that will evoke students’ unique stories. This is clearly an embodiment of Newkirk’s decades of work in the field, which probably began under his father’s tutelage: one of the final chapters of the book includes a poignant story of his father’s yearlong experiment with teens and “free reading.” In an article about the experiment, his father remarks, “Carnegie made the library public…teachers need to make it free.”
VERDICT A must for all educators. For new teachers, it provides aspirational direction to teach literacy; for veteran teachers, it will reawaken a passion for the art of teaching literacy.

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