I know these past few posts have been less than literature inspired, but that's just where we are right now, struggling with the fact that reading is something that should be (pardon me for this following) wild and free, but also happens to be this essential part of the educational process and so is subject to the most horrible of the socializing, institutional homogenizing bla-de-bla-de-bla.
The thing is that Chestnut, who has struggled manfully (girl-fully?) with reading, has made great strides this summer and is often to be found happily curled up with a book in various areas of the house, absorbed and calm, reading Magic Treehouse books, or Adopted Jane, or picture books that she's always loved that the rest of us have gotten tired of reading to her, but now she can read them to herself.
This is, of course, completely excellent, and we've all been enjoying it. And then, in comes school.
Now, I must say up front that I love our school. I love the principal, the teachers; I feel like everyone is so smart and caring and doing their best in an extremely challenging educational system (NYC Board of Education, how much I hate the testing I can't hope to express adequately here). But there they are: the reading levels. Are you an M or an L? Ooh, only a J? And while Chestnut does manage to use them, at least sometimes, to underscore her sense of accomplishment, they are a double-edged sword, and another child with a higher reading level is always close by, ready to make Chestnut feel…less.
Her teachers have made a special point to parents: they want the levels de-emphasized. We should try to avoid talking about them, we should focus on other aspects of reading instead, and we do try. But there they are, hovering off-stage, waiting for Chestnut, who does care about what the world thinks of her, to look to them to tell her about herself. I wish I could make them vanish. I wish no one would say word one about her and her reading, couldn't get in there at all to touch her. And yes, I do know that learning things means subjecting yourself to the gaze and judgment of others. It's just that sometimes I can't stand it.