Fired Up

, Allie Winegar Duzett, Leave a comment

Rafe Esquith is a one-in-a-million teacher: he truly believes that each of his students can be extraordinary, with proper coaching. His 2009 book, Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World, highlights specific things parents can do to help their children get the most out of their education—and their lives.

To Esquith, there are a few things every child needs to be extraordinary: an understanding and appreciation of time; the ability to concentrate; and humility. The beauty of Esquith’s methods is that they are rooted in the belief that each child has the ability to develop these necessary traits.

“The arts must be a part of every child’s life,” Esquith argues, adding that when children learn to use an instrument, they develop understandings of time—how to count it, and how much it matters. They learn how to play well with others, in a literal sense; as Esquith puts it, “Young musicians learn not only to keep time on their own, but to keep time with others when playing in a group.” And when they practice, they benefit from immediate feedback; students know what they’re trying to play, and when they play it wrong they know immediately. When children know what’s wrong immediately, they are able to fix it right away. This helps a child develop crucial concentration skills, he argues.

Esquith also adds his voice to the thousands of others out there pressuring parents to turn off the television sets and get library cards instead. Parents can always read with their children, and there is no shortage of decent books to read together, Esquith argues, suggesting such books as Great Expectations, Animal Farm, and The Wretched Stone. “Reading for pleasure helps students excel in many pursuits, from art projects to scientific experiments,” Esquith writes. “Literature needs to be a joyous and daily part of a child’s life.”

Despite Esquith’s disdain for television, he does admit that watching movies together as a family can be valuable to a student’s development. “The key is to watch with your kids,” he writes (emphasis in the original). For every trait Esquith thinks children should possess to be extraordinary, he offers up a number of movies parents can watch with their children. He also suggests thought-provoking questions and discussion ideas for parents to help their children get the most out of these experiences. Some movies he suggests are Quiz Show, Casablanca, and The Paper Chase.

Esquith argues on behalf of a multitude of activities for children: he defends that children ought to learn to sew; to knit or crochet; to build models of buildings and vehicles; to dance. Throughout the book, Esquith describes a wide range of activities he asserts will help any child to become extraordinary.

Lighting Their Fires is both informative and entertaining, riddled with facts and helpful hints for everyone who works with children. This is a good read for anyone trying to help an ordinary child become extraordinary.

Allie Winegar Duzett is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.