Lighting Their Fires – Book Review

lighting their firesLighting Their Fires by Rafe Esquith

Rafe Esquith is a *superstar* in the education world.  His 5th graders learn more than the regular curriculum, they perform Shakespeare (often traveling extensively to do so) and read things like “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  Although they come from a highly disadvantaged area, his students score in the top 5-10% on standardized tests, which is a phenomenal accomplishment.  My husband is a high school teacher in a similarly disadvantaged area (although the number of his students in poverty is not as high as at Rafe’s school, it seems to be steadily increasing); he has read both of Rafe’s previous books and incorporated some of his ideas into his classroom.

When I was given the opportunity to review Esquith’s new book, “Lighting Their Fires,” which is being marketed equally to teachers and parents, as opposed to primarily teachers like his other books, I jumped at the chance.  I knew that my husband had really enjoyed Esquith’s other books so I thought this was a good opportunity for me to read something he enjoyed, as well as for him to read Rafe’s new book, which I knew he would be excited about.

Rafe’s students are amazing, but they don’t start out like that.  They have become amazing through hard work by parents and teachers.  “Lighting Their Fires” is Rafe’s attempt to help parents understand what they can do to help their children become amazing as well.  The format was very engaging; all of his tips are told against the backdrop of his trip to a baseball game with some of his students.  This book does stand on its own, but from what my husband says is enhanced by having read the previous books.

Many of Rafe’s tips are good, and he certainly has more basis for them than many so-called parenting experts, having worked with countless students, and following many of those students from late elementary school through college.  At other times, though, felt he was a little judgmental, or rather perhaps was over-generalizing.  He railed against television, which is certainly not a good habit overall, but he also made it sound as if there is never anything worth watching, yet at the same time he repeatedly extolled the virtues of using movies as educational aids.  That simply didn’t seem very consistent to me.  I was also a bit annoyed by the fact that it seemed he talked about using movies to teach far more than using books.  I just wish there was a little more parity, I wanted more book ideas!

I thought it was good, although not great, but my husband really enjoyed it.  I do think there will be some helpful ideas for us as Daniel grows.

Edit:  In regards to the books, it seems he talks about them MUCH more in his books for teachers.  He certainly challenges his students with literature that most people wouldn’t give to elementary students.  I just wish he’d talked more to the parents who will read this book about how to use literature to teach their children.

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8 comments to Lighting Their Fires – Book Review

  • I usually enjoy reading books about the educational system and educating children since both my mom and aunt have taught elementary and middle grade. That does seem a bit inconsistent to be down on tv but fine with movies, and of course I’m with you about the books thing. I feel like a lot is lacking in our expectations of children sometimes with respect to reading and writing.
    .-= Nicole´s last blog ..Literary Feasts: Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater =-.

  • I should have mentioned in the review that he does seem to talk about books more in his other books, I just wish it was more in this one, since this is the one that is for parents, many of the people who read this book won’t read his others.

  • It’s interesting that he talks about movies a lot. When Vance was in high school, I felt like teachers used movies in the classroom far too often. He came home one day and said he’d watched a movie in every single class that day – I felt like he’d wasted his time by going to school.

  • My daughter’s in elementary and it seems like she watches at least part of a movie every week in school.

    There are so many books of advice out there for parents, and they each have their own pros and cons. I guess you take what you think are the good parts and leave the rest.

  • This doesn’t sound like my kind of read!

  • I am so surprised to see how much movies are being used in schools. I had no idea. While I know they can be great learning tools (I used movies when I taught at the university), I think reading and discussion shouldn’t take a backseat.

  • Thanks for sharing this book. As an educator, I have seen Teach Like Your Hair is On Fire (or something like that?) and neglected to pick it up because of its cheesy title. This review however has turned me on to his stuff and I just sent myself some sample chapters to my kindle. :)

    • That title isn’t quite as cheesy as it sounds, I think. According to my husband he actually got his hair set on fire in a class and was so focused on what he was doing he didn’t notice (students had to tell him). So what it really means is teach so wholeheartedly you don’t notice other tings, like your hair being on fire.