Friday, February 16, 2007

Sorry, That's Not At Your Level, Honey

There's days when I truly marvel that I made it to adulthood intact. When I went to school we learned to read from whatever books we could get our hands on. No one talked about Reading Levels, and there was no such thing as Accelerated Reading Lists. Still I managed to be two grades ahead of myself in reading, spelling and comprehension.

Jump forward to today. Books at the elementary level have been categorized and numbered and starred so that parents can pigeonhole their children even easier than before! There's Blue Level One and Green Star Level 3 and Ready-To-Read Red Label-Yellow Starred-Blue Spine-Key Words Highlighted In Pink Level 99... you get the picture. I understand, on one level (which level, you ask? how about Puce With Silver Star Level 39?) that publishers want to make it easier to sell/market/shelve these early to mid level reading books, and I'm sure it makes a teacher's job easier to a certain extent. But there is fallout. There always is.

I hear it every day: "Honey, you're not at Level 3 yet. You can't take that book out." "Ma'am, can you show me where the Red Label Level Ones are at?" "My child needs some accelerated readers at Level 4.1. Where are they?" And all the while I'm smiling and directing and selecting, I want to just scream at them, "Just let the fricking kid read what he wants to!! Trust your parental judgment!! Grow a set, for god's sake!"

Sure, as a parent you don't want your child to suffer. But a little struggle never hurt anyone. I overheard a parent yesterday saying, "You're at Level Two, honey. You'll just get frustrated with that Level Three book." So let him get frustrated! Let him work it out! Challenge the little darling! Wait, here's a novel idea--sit down with your child and help him/her work through it!

I think what concerns me most about this reading level business--and here pontificates the conspiracy theorist again--is the niggling thought that boxing our kids in to "levels" and "lists" is going to turn them into a bunch of automotons. No imagination, no creativity, no coloring outside the lines. Everyone reading the same story, thinking the same thoughts, turning beige.

Not a real pleasant future vision, is it?


Robyn said...

Bypass the school library. Go to the public one, or the (gasp!) bookstore.

I know educators have to have some kind of standard so they can compare our kids against the national average, and brag on it when they want us to pony up more tax money.

Honey said...

How sad. This kinda happened to me growing up. In fact, I think it's why I came to romance late. (I was lucky enough to have a wide variety of books available that I wasn't censored from, so I always had a love of reading and no shortage of "good" books to read.)
When my cousins were starting junior high and reading Sweet Valley High books, my parents told me they were too grown-up for me. (My cousins are 6 months to a year older than me, both chronologically and in maturity level.) The next thing I knew, I was graduating high school still thinking I was too young for them, and that any books with grown-up sexual tension were bad.

I don't have kids of my own, but I hope I don't coddle them so much that I stifle their desire to learn and keep them from deciding for themselves what they like and don't like.

spyscribbler said...

Levels are ridiculous. There's lots of leveling in piano books, and what one publisher puts in level 3, another puts in level 6.

All it serves to do is take kids six years or more to be able to do what my kids can do in two years. I don't do levels.

Brenda Oig said...

That's one main reason I homeschooled my kids. We spent a lot of time reading any books we could get our hands on. When my kids went to school (once they reached high school), then couldn't believe how bad the reading levels were in school. They were looked at as the "smart ones" because they could read so well and think for themselves. It's sad.

I enjoyed your rant. :)