Lighting 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.