When I hear stories about teachers and administrators making decisions that create the impression they don't know children at all, I speculate about how different things might be if everyone understood child development. When I hear stories of small children who are bewildered, frustrated, and even defeated in their earliest school experiences, trying with brave determination to do what is asked of them and failing to understand why they can't, I wonder, what if everybody understood child development? At the very least, shouldn't every educator and school administrator?
I do know that I took courses in child development as an undergraduate and as a grad student. What I do not recall as well is the connection between what I was reading in textbooks and hearing in lectures and actual kids and classroom experiences. To be fair to my professors, I am certain that I was not doing some of the heavy lifting here. But because I remember being puzzled about how Pavlov, Skinner, Maslow, Piaget, Kohlberg, and others applied to me and my classroom, I am quick to include such theories in my children's and YA literature classes. Too many decisions about which books to include in K-12 classrooms fail to take developmental levels into consideration. Time after time I see posts to the professional listservs about books for "precocious" readers at different ages. Parents want them to read something more challenging; teachers and librarians want to recommend books that are still within the child's developmental range. It is sometimes quite a juggling act. Some observations from more than a quarter century of teaching with books, of working with kids of all ages:
1. Just because a child or teen is able to read the book does not mean the book is appropriate for the reader.
2. Just because a child is a GIFTED or PRECOCIOUS reader does not mean he or she is ready for books for older readers (see #1).
3. Just because a child is a STRIVING or STRUGGLING reader does not mean offering an "easier" book is the answer.
4. There is no such thing as ONE book EVERYBODY should read. Yes, HARRY POTTER had widespread appeal, but I run into folks for whom this was not a touchstone book at all. Just look at the discussion following the award announcements.
5. Just because a book has won many accolades does not mean it is a book that will be appropriate or appealing to all readers (Corollary to #4).
Here is a wonderful quote from a NYT interview (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/08/one-on-one-jason-merkoski-and-the-view-of-e-books-from-the-inside/?smid=fb-share) this morning:
"When it comes to book recommendations, retailers have the literary sensibilities of a spreadsheet — they’ll just recommend the most popular books to me, or books that other people also bought, but they know nothing of the soul and sparkle of a great book. I hope this changes over time."
I do not trust anyone without knowledge of child development to make book recommendations. I do not trust anyone who does not have even more information about the reader to make recommendations beyond the surface. I am often asked to make recommendations of book. I try always to ask some more questions before making recommendations: age, gender, other books liked, dislikes, hobbies, favorite movies, music, etc.
I also do not trust the one-size-fits-all approach to curriculum and programs. We are not turning out widgets, folks. We have real live kids in our classes. They come with their individual gifts and needs and abilities. Legislation that dictates that X and Y will be taught and learned at a particular time/age/grade demonstrate a lack of knowledge of kids. It also demonstrates a total disregard for the child, the person. I will say it again: we teach kids and not content.