I want to make clear, first, that I don't mean that oh-so-provocative headline in the context of We Recommend. I mean it more in the parent-to-parent conversations that make up the lion's share of my social interactions.
I like those conversations, I do. Being a parent can be a lonely business, and there is always (at least for me) that eerie sense that you're doing it all wrong and you'll never find out, and talking to other parents can help assuage these worries (Oh, says the other parent, my child weeps over homework all the time! Perfectly normal!).
But where these conversations touch on reading levels, I get uncomfortable. It's just such a weird piece of information: whether the child is unbelievably advanced ("They just don't give him anything to challenge him!") or the child is struggling ("I swear I think she'll never learn to sound things out. And everyone else is on chapter books!") it gives me the willies. It's as though they want something from me, and I'm not able to give it.
It's not just the competitive thing either. It's more that I feel
1) that they're putting their child out there for me to judge, somehow, which seems an unforgivable intimacy
2) they're asking me to toss my child into the ring to compete with their child, and it feels entirely against every sort of feeling about reading I have
3) they're asking me to participate in a system of leveling that, the more I experience it, the less I feel peace with it.
Here are the problems: I don't want to act like we can accurately assess kids and their abilities. I don't think we can.
I don't want to rank kids by their reading proficiency. They all know we're doing it, and it feels either irrelevant if you're a great reader at the moment, or like crap if you're not.
I don't want to group books by 'level,' as if that were what mattered about them.
It is all sticking in my craw right now. It devalues reading in some essential difficult-to-define way, it makes it a tool to judge kids by. As if the leveling thing weren't crappy enough, having the parents participate in it, and then all of a sudden I'm talking that language—it BOTHERS me, is all.