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My First Grader's Book Shocker

I hope readers will find the following true story amusing as well as informative, and besides, sharing it gives me an excuse to brag about what a great reader my daughter is. My first grader reads at a level 4.1, which is the level a beginning fourth grader is expected to be reading. She gets a book each week that she is to read, and also is sometimes tested on the material. A few weeks ago she got the book, Make Like a Tree and Leave by Paula Danziger. She reads a little each night, but in this case, the book was long (117 pages) and she was sick part of the week so she got a bit behind on her reading. The night before she had to return the book my husband, my ten-year-old daughter, and I took turns listening to her read the book, and occasionally reading some parts of it along with her.

The book was cute and funny. It was about a boy and his classmates who rallied to raise money to help save the home of an elderly lady who volunteered in their classroom. There were some amusing scenarios in the book, but one did not amuse me so much. On page 41, one of the characters in the book lost her contact lens. The mom of the main character decided to share with the sixth grade children in the book a story from her youth. She told them how she and her boyfriend were "making out" and he swallowed her contact lens. The kids asked the Dad what it was like to swallow a contact lens. He said he didn't know because that was one of Mom's other boyfriends.

I sent a note to my daughter's teacher the following day saying that although the book was otherwise good, it was a bit too "mature" for her and I pointed the teacher to the pages referenced above. I had to go to school for something else that day and saw the teacher. She had not yet read the passage, but told me she wanted to take a look at it while I was there. I watched her read it and saw her jaw drop as her eyes became as big as saucers. She was pretty shocked, even after being warned of the "mature" material. She apologized profusely and said she had previewed it and read reviews of it, but had not read the entire book, but would now do so for all books and would take that one off of the first grade reading list immediately.

In order to provide challenging material for advanced readers it is sometimes necessary to assign books intended for older children. To be perfectly honest though, I would not exactly be comfortable with my fifth grader reading about someone losing their contact lens while "making out." How the heck does that happen, anyway? I have heard the term "sucking face," but really.

The moral of this story is that when your kids are in public school you cannot assume that what they are given to read or what they are being taught is always appropriate. Be vigilant and take a look at what your kids are reading. You might just be in for a bit of a surprise -- even in first grade.

Update: I received a link to this brilliant post from a home schooler. In it she asks "how hard it would be to untrain a person in something that they were taught since they were 5?"

Think about it, if you taught that blue is yellow, it would be extremely difficult to convince you later on the correction. You would always think yellow for the sky. Then you would correct yourself.

Suppose you taught children that Jews are pigs. Not in name calling but in actual reasoning. Then what? How does the world treat pigs? (think Islam) Results are exactly what you would expect.

Suppose we taught that a theory was a fact. For example, suppose we taught that the earth was flat. Totally a theory,yet as a controlling person teaching the children, I was able to teach this. What would the children believe? Of course, that it was flat. Now I know that this example can be disproved through many means. But several hundred years ago the earth was flat as far as the world was concerned.

Cross-posted at LorieByrd.com.

Comments (19)

Sadly Lorie, I think the an... (Below threshold)

Sadly Lorie, I think the answer is that some people (although it's disgusting and a GREAT way to get an infection) put their contacts in their mouth when a case is unavailable to keep them from drying out.

Kudos, though, to your first-grader for being so advanced in reading!

Ha. I never thought of tha... (Below threshold)
Lorie Byrd:

Ha. I never thought of that. I don't have contacts. But would you do that when you were getting ready to "make out"?

Prepare to freak if you run... (Below threshold)
robert the original:

Prepare to freak if you run into a class using the latest thing called "differentiation".

Differentiation is a way of mainstreaming everyone from Special Ed. to gifted - and everyone in between - all in the same class. Using groups and other ways the idea is to challenge each kid according to their ability. There is a lot to it, and most of it is good.

However, the latest twist is to grade based on effort, progress and what is called individual learning contracts between teacher and student. In short, there is a double or even triple standard.

Wait for the first time your gifted kid comes home with a "C" based on reading Tolstoy, while a Special Ed. kid in the same class gets an "A" for his analysis of "The Cat in the Hat".

Who is John Galt.

What's truly shocking about... (Below threshold)

What's truly shocking about all that is that a teacher in this day and age actually gave a darn, listened to your concerns and investigated them for herself. Good on you, Lorie!

Good thing you don't live i... (Below threshold)

Good thing you don't live in Lexington, MA.

Swallowed contacts would be the least of your problems, compared to whats read to children in that town.

Robert,That has alre... (Below threshold)
Lorie Byrd:

That has already happened to a degree. My fifth grader has been on an accelerated track (or is it tract?) since first grade and it really bothered me then that she had twenty spelling words to learn, while her classmates had ten or twelve. If my daughter missed two of her words, she would still have correctly spelled eight more than her classmates, but they could get the better grade based on the differentiation.

My first grader now has to read and be tested on third and fourth grade level books, while her classmates are tested on lower grade level books. That is preferably to her being bored to death in class though and not having her brain engaged.

I have been really fortunat... (Below threshold)
Lorie Byrd:

I have been really fortunate that my kids have gotten good teachers that care about them and go the extra mile to make sure they are getting what they need.

Not only is this clearly in... (Below threshold)

Not only is this clearly inappropriate for young readers, but from your general description of the book I can imagine no way it advances or contributes to the story in any way. It's a gratuitous passage.

At first I wondered about the teacher, but we can't expect even first grade teachers to read every book in the library for first graders, much less for higher grades - and we certainly want to encourage children to read above their grade level if they can.

Seems to me the librarian is lax here, or whatever screening committee chooses books for the school library or reading lists. I have to wonder about the author and publisher, too. What were they thinking?

Yeah, I guess you got some ... (Below threshold)
robert the original:

Yeah, I guess you got some of that already.

I too like the challenge to everyone part, but the grading just gets me cooked. Isn't the grade supposed to represent the degree to which State and district standards are met or exceeded?

This new grading tends to level the field, like NFL parity, and to flatten the curve. As with the teachers union, everyone is equal, er, I mean all students are equal, but some students are more equal than others, er, I mean you might as well throw out the damn grade 'cause it doesn't tell you anything at all.

In the past college admissions could see the tracks of the classes, but now everyone is in the same class. At least college admissions also use standardized testing, but scholarships often go on grades alone, so do many jobs.


Differentiation is NOT in t... (Below threshold)

Differentiation is NOT in the best interests of students--it's in the best interests of the budget.

Lorie, we don't (or shouldn't) teach gifted or accelerated kids by giving them MORE work; it's supposed to be advanced work. For example, when your daughter's classmates have "cat," she should have "caught," but the same number of words. She should be allowed to pretest out of the easier words so that she's only studying the ones she needs to learn.

As for books, look for ones published before 1968. The older ones have a certain charm that newer ones definitely lack.

Excellent job with your dau... (Below threshold)

Excellent job with your daughter's reading, Lorie.

There are exceptions but from my personal experience, government schools are setup to cater to the average and below average pupil. Few government schools have a clue on how to, much less an inclination to, handle 'gifted' students.

To wit, when I attended government high school, each class met at least once per day, with one class meeting twice. The class that met twice changed depending on the day of week. The purpose of meeting twice was to have the teacher re-teach the material with which students were having problems. If you were able to get it the first time, you lost another hour of your life sitting through it again.

The additional words she ha... (Below threshold)
Lorie Byrd:

The additional words she had were harder. She still had the other words too, though, that the rest of the class had, but she already knew them and didn't really have to study them. That was my daughter who is now a fifth grader. They do it a bit differently now though. My daughter who is in first grade now has a certain number of words each week, then about four additional "challenge" words, so it is not quite as bad as it was when my other daughter was in first grade. It does still seem a bit unfair, though, that they do harder (or even sometimes more) work than some of the other kids in the class. I would prefer that though to having her be bored and "dumbed down."

I attended a private Christian school in fifth through twelfth grade. I was very fortunate to be able to attend that school, but there were drawbacks there, too. We only had about 30 kids per grade, but those 30 were all in one class so the more advanced kids were doing the same work as all the others and it was often stuff I already knew. When I started college I had trouble learning good study habits because I had not really needed to study much in high school.

When I started col... (Below threshold)
When I started college I had trouble learning good study habits because I had not really needed to study much in high school.

Yeah, me too. High school was a joke, but when I got to the university, wham! "What do you mean, failing? I've never failed a course in my life." Heh. Talk about your rude awakenings.

Did you ever read FIVE CHIN... (Below threshold)
spurwing plover:

Did you ever read FIVE CHINSES BROTHRS? they sound like the begining on the X-MEN

My 3rd grader is in the hig... (Below threshold)

My 3rd grader is in the highest reading block for her grade. A couple of weeks ago they were given "The Great Gilly Hopkins" to read. It's won all kinds of awards for children's literature.

Well my daughter had been saying the book had bad words in it, and I explained how sometimes characters display that kind of behavior.

One night she could not understand a passage, so I read it, then re-read it. It was a poem written by the title character to her black school teacher, and the reason my daughter did not understand it was because the "N" word was implied in the passage. She had no idea what that was.

SO I had the dubious honor of introducing my innocent 9 year old daughter to the nasty concept of a racial slur. Thank you Public School System.

Where the hell is "Little House on the Prairie"? Where is "Little Women"? Why do our kids have to be assigned this tripe they pass off as "literature"? It's disgusting and disheartening.

"As for books, look for one... (Below threshold)

"As for books, look for ones published before 1968. The older ones have a certain charm that newer ones definitely lack. "

I sometimes wish the schools were required to use only textbooks published before 1968 too, or maybe before 1960. Those same books that were used by people who turned out to be literate, competent and qualified to attend college. But that would be admitting the massive waste of money, time, and kids' talents that have been thrown away trying to improve on what worked.

My son's current first grad... (Below threshold)

My son's current first grade teacher, in mu opinion is wonderful. He has many kids at different levels within his first grade class. My son is very bright and probably one of his smartest students. My son recently brought home "preforming at acceptable level" grades. That would be a "C" when I went to school. I was not happy as I know how bright he is. I didn't go to his teacher with guns blazing, as that accomplishes nothing when you are starting a conversation, but I did ask about it. My son's teacher stated that he knew that my son knew all of the material, and was even working on much harder material than the rest of the class. The problem with my son, is not that material it too hard for him, but that once he understands he quits putting any effort into his work. He wasn't being graded on the fact the work he does do is harder, but on the fact that he was not applying himself in his work. Now, with a lot of teachers I have met this would have made me angry, but not with my son's teacher. He is holding my son to very reasonable expectations. He wants him to apply what he is learning. I have no doubt that this particular teacher, if he saw the material my son was being given was too hard, that he would tone down the work so to speak. As I said, some teachers would make me nervous with this method. I guess my point is, you must stay in touch with your children, their work, and their teachers. You must make a point of knowing what is going on, and don't be afraid to question things. The teacher isn't always right, but the teacher isn't always wrong either.

That is an excellent point,... (Below threshold)
Lorie Byrd:

That is an excellent point, Sunni. I have a similar problem with my ten year old. She is bright, but has gotten really lazy and stopped applying herself. I think she was able to coast for too long, getting good grades without really having to work for them, that she got used to not having to put forth much effort. Luckily she has a teacher that picked up on it and called me to talk about the problem before it got too far gone. That really is the key, just keeping in communication with the teacher. That is, if you are lucky enough to have a teacher that pays attention and cares.

Lorie,You're lucky... (Below threshold)


You're lucky your daughters teacher "picked up on it".
As someone whom attended a "gifted" COLLEGE, I am glad your advanced child has been called out early. The real trouble starts when "gifted" kids go to college, become unsupervised and start failing, as some of the earlier posters on this thread have atested.






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