Wilhelm and Novak challenge business as usual in the language arts. They call for nothing short of a revolution in our understanding of the aims and methods of the English classroom, showing what English can do for democratic life, inside and outside of classrooms.


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Foreword by Sheridan Blau

This powerful book lays out an inspiring new vision for the teaching of English, building on themes central to Wilhelm’s influential "You Gotta BE The Book."  With this new work, Wilhelm and Novak challenge business as usual in the language arts. They call for nothing short of a revolution in our understanding of the aims and methods of the English classroom, showing what English can do for democratic life, inside and outside of classrooms.

With moving portraits of teachers and students, as well as practical strategies and advice, they provide a roadmap to educational transformation far beyond the field of English that will be of interest to a wide audience of teachers, teacher educators, curriculum developers, and educational leaders.

Essential questions explored by Teaching Literacy for Love and Wisdom:

  • Why is what English teachers do so often underestimated?
  • How can we teach literature in a way that fully taps into its transformative power?
  • How can we artfully teach all subjects, at all levels, for personal wisdom, democratic community, and social and ecological justice?

Videos and written materials from the conference launching this book, along with ongoing discussion and commentary, can be found at http://www.aepl.org/2011conference.

Teachers College Press, NCTE, and the National Writing Project.

2011. Grades K-College.

Jeffrey D. Wilhelm is professor of English education at Boise State University and author of "You Gotta BE The Book" Teaching Engaged and Reflective Reading with Adolescents, Second Edition. Bruce Novak is the director of Educational Projects for the Foundation for Ethics and Meaning, Chicago, Illinois. He has taught English, grades 6–12, at diverse settings in Chicago.


“A 21st-century defense of literature.”
Sheridan Blau, from the Foreword

“It’s particularly exciting to see how the authors give both intellectual heft and political weight to the ‘softness’ that too many for too long have deemed a danger to our profession.”
Peter Elbow, University of Massachusetts–Amherst, author of Everyone Can Write

“If you yearn, as I do, for an education that encourages students to come alive to themselves, to others, and to the world, you must read this book. We who teach cannot afford to fiddle with information and test scores while the planet burns. We need to help our students become grounded in true self, cultivate wisdom and generosity, and live in a way that reflects reverence for the gifts of nature and human nature. In this important book, Wilhelm and Novak point the way with stories of great teaching and learning and a powerful framework of ideas that sheds light on teaching in every discipline. May it be read and embraced by many.”
Parker J. Palmer, author of The Courage to Teach, Let Your Life Speak, and Healing the Heart of Democracy

“At a time when all the discussion about teachers seems so critical, here comes this book that brings some light into my world, reminding me as nothing else has lately what it means to be a teacher, and an English teacher in particular. It is enough that this book restores my pride in our profession; that the book also offers examples of great teaching and expands my conception of my own practice—well, that just makes this book all the more of a gift to our profession.
Jim Burke, Burlingame High School, CA, author of I Hear America Reading and The English Teacher’s Companion, and founder of the English Companion Ning

“A powerful and loving plea to reclaim education from the boredom and alienation of standardization toward personal growth, democratic community, and planetary partnership. A pleasure to read.”
Nel Noddings, Stanford University, author of The Challenge to Care in Schools and Happiness and Education

“Winston Churchill was fond of saying that the thing that got in the way of his education was schooling. Education is for the renewal of life; but most schooling deadens us. I have been working in the field of educational renewal for the past quarter century. So I have been very much cheered in this dark educational time by Teaching Literacy for Love and Wisdom, which vividly and coherently connects the educative processes of inner renewal and community renewal with the large-scale processes of democratic and ecological renewal the world now needs. It is a reminder for all of us of what education is and schools are for and of what we can humanly make of ourselves by truly caring for the education of our young.”
John Goodlad, founder of the Institute for Educational Inquiry and the National Network for Educational Renewal and author of A Place Called School, What Schools Are For, and In Praise of Education

“Explaining exactly what the best English teachers do by connecting congenial strains of contemporary science, psychology, and literary theory with perennial themes from both Eastern and Western philosophy, the authors confirm the highest values of democratic education and offer an inspiring vision of what it truly means to put students first—showing how what really counts in the humanities classroom is the humanity we manifest in it, and how manifesting this humanity is what brings us to come to count for ourselves and for one another. The authors not only describe the future of English, but its best current practices and its deep historical legacy. This book is more than prophetic. In our increasingly dehumanized world, it’s a necessity.”
Robert Inchausti, Professor of English, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, CA, and author of Spitwad Sutras: Classroom Reaching as Sublime Vocation and Thomas Merton’s American Prophecy

“With the spirits of Matthew Arnold and John Dewey hovering over every page, Wilhelm and Novak probe the question ‘What is English?’ Drawing on an array of thinkers and intellectual traditions, they make the case that art, and particularly the reading of literature, can help create a ‘transactional mentality’—a transcending of the narrow boundaries of ‘self’ to achieve an openness to others, a sense of true community, and democracy in the best sense. It is a demanding, stimulating, and hopeful journey.”
Thomas Newkirk, University of New Hampshire

“In a technologically competitive world that demands ‘more math and science,’ what is English for? Wilhelm and Novak reveal how reading and writing, despite being classic left-hemisphere activities, can be taught so that they develop right-hemisphere awareness. Literacy becomes a pathway to love, to wisdom, and to hope, rather than one more educational entrapment of an egocentric and instrumental culture. This is a lively, inspiring, and, literally, mind-opening book.”
Ellen Dissanayake, University of Washington, author of What Is Art For?, Homo Aestheticus, and Art and Intimacy

“Wilhelm and Novak have respectfully recovered Louise Rosenblatt’s inspired use of John Dewey’s transactionalism in her transactional theory of reading, and then brilliantly gone beyond it, breaking fresh ground in classroom practice for a new generation that sorely needs it. Dewey and Rosenblatt would both rejoice in their creative and timely reconstruction of their work.”
Jim Garrison, Virginia Tech, past president of the John Dewey Society, and author of Dewey and Eros

“Wilhelm and Novak have a complex story to tell about why literature holds such a venerable office. But a great strength of the book is that the authors are themselves masterful storytellers. And in sharing their own stories--as well as those of their students, colleagues, and cooperating teachers--they provide powerful testimony to the brave vulnerability, trusting friendship, and honest meaningfulness that a humanistic education can provide. They themselves become palpably real in the process of persuading us to become real for one another. Read this book for the pleasure that it affords, and allow it to help propel you along in your own journey toward greater loving wisdom.”
Megan Laverty, Teachers College, author of Iris Murdoch’s Ethics: A Consideration of Her Romantic Vision

“For any English teacher who wonders why she teaches, who returns throughout her career to that atavistic staring into the fire to make sense of the deepest questions that lovers of language live by, this book will keep you afloat in both challenging educational times and those times when you feel understood. It is a book that I will read again and again, revisiting its pages like a trusted friend. This book informs the practicalities of a rich teaching life: it supports our classroom endeavors, encouraging and reflecting best practices, while simultaneously nurturing the heart of why we began teaching in the first place. It’s easy to feel disheartened when so much is being dictated from outside of our classrooms. Here’s a book to ‘read,’ in the words of C.S. Lewis, ‘to know we are not alone.’”
Denise Maltese, middle school English teacher, Onteora, NY, and winner of the 2008 NCTE James Moffett Award for K–12 Teaching