First Grade Readers: Units Of Study To Help Children See Themselves As Meaning Makers, by Stephanie Parsons
This is the sort of book that ought to give someone pause when reading it. A great deal of elementary education involves flattery of young students. This is unsurprising. Early elementary schoolers (as this book is written about) are generally new to reading and writing and in order to encourage them to engage in such tasks, a certain amount of flattery is to be expected. If the teacher goes further along this process than I would prefer, it is because she tends to express a dislike of testing and encouraging a factual knowledge of something and is far more interested in encouraging their children to find their own meaning in texts. Now, this whole aspect of finding one’s own meaning is something that has run rampant in contemporary society with extremely damaging results, and the author appears to be gung ho about supporting this tendency, which suggests that there are some substantial disagreements about the importance of education and the role of external reality in shaping our own mindset. The author, it would seem, is not one of those who places a high value on objective truth, and that limits my own appreciation of her approach.
This book is a short one at just a bit more than 150 page and it is divided into seven chapters that are temporally organized in order throughout the school year. The book begins with a foreword by Kathy Collins and the usual acknowledgments. After that the author introduces the subject of reading and how it can be celebrated and encouraged for young learners. After that the author encourages teachers to turn their students into a community of readers through a great deal of subtle manipulation and flattery (1). The author then moves to helping encourage teachers to show students how to make sense of letters (2) and to use the developing skills in reading to bring books to life (3). After that there is a discussion on encouraging young readers to read with a wide-awake mind (4) with the purpose of learning (5). Discussions on speaking and acting out what is read encourage young people to sound like readers (6) when talking about books and then encourage the teacher to plan for independence and summer reading (7), after which there are appendices with handouts (i) and websites to help foster the habit of reading (ii).
By and large, there are some things that even a wary and suspicious reader like myself can take from this book and appreciate. Certainly as a prolific reader I am appreciative of those who encouraged me to read and learn and to become the sort of independent-minded person I am when it comes to thinking–something not everyone appreciates. Even so, it is hard to know what aspects of this book spring from a genuine love of seeing people read and learn and grow and what parts spring from a desire to encourage a certain sort of person who values their own subjective opinion and thinking more than objective reality as it can be recognized and understood by others. Ideally, we should be aware of both our internal subjective reality and cultivate our creativity and our God-given talents as well as be aware of the external state of the world outside of us that exerts its pull on us, however much we may dislike it. Yet it seems all too easy to either grade according to objective facts that are easy to regurgitate but that do not blossom into deeper love or passion or to encourage individual interpretations that are fanciful and not particularly on point as a way of flattering others into thinking they are more insightful than they actually are. This book is clearly in the latter camp.