Reading: Welcoming Our Relation to the World
One of the most important new subjects children must learn in first grade is how to read. Reading is a great and proud accomplishment for every child, but words and letters on a page can seem fearfully strange to children because they see them as coming from an unfriendly world that doesn't make sense.
The first day I told the children what I learned from Aesthetic Realism: the purpose of education is to like the world through knowing it. And when we want to shut the world out, or make fun of someone, or are mean to a person, we are having contempt, and this hurts our minds. We will see through reading we can have new, big feelings about the world and people we hope to have, and we can learn about ourselves. As you learn to read this year, the world will come inside your minds in new ways and your minds will become bigger and stronger.
First, in the story The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister, we learned about the feelings of a creature who seems so different from us, but who is like us, too. And through the Aesthetic Realism Teaching Method, and questions I was able to ask these worried and hopeful six-year-olds about the opposites of separate and together, selfishness and generosity, we saw the story's relevance to ourselves, and also the exciting ethical meaning in it--and they loved it!
In the beginning the Rainbow Fish is aloof from the other fish who call to him:
"Come on Rainbow Fish...Come and play with us...." But the Rainbow Fish would just glide past, proud and silent, letting his scales shimmer.
I said, "The Rainbow Fish is beautiful on the outside, but does he have beautiful thoughts about the other fishes on the inside?" "No, he doesn't like them," said Jeffrey. "Does he use his beautiful scales to be kind to the other fishes or to feel he's better than they are and has a right to look down on them?" "He thinks he's better!" Eddy said adamantly. "Do you think the Rainbow Fish is trying to be fair to the world or he is trying to have contempt?" "Oooh that's contempt," said Wanda.
Little Blue Fish
A little blue fish asks the Rainbow Fish for one of his scales, but the Rainbow Fish gets very angry and tells the little fish in no uncertain terms to stay away from him. So the little fish and all his friends decide to stay away. Now that the Rainbow Fish has his wish, he is sad and lonely and says, "I am really beautiful. Why doesn't anybody like me?" He goes to the wise octopus, and she advises him to give a glittering scale to each of the fish and says, "You will discover how to be happy."
Meanwhile, the little blue fish has not given up on the Rainbow Fish. He swims back and says, "Rainbow Fish, please, don't be angry. I just want one little scale." Pfister writes, "The Rainbow Fish wavered." And then he "carefully pulled out the smallest scale and gave it to the little fish....A rather peculiar feeling came over the Rainbow Fish. For a long time he watched the little blue fish swim back and forth with his new scale glittering in the water."
I asked the children, "Did the Rainbow Fish feel that in giving a scale to the blue fish, he had a good effect on him?" Maria said, "Yes, the blue fish is happy. He's dancing in the water." "Did having a good effect on the blue fish make the Rainbow Fish proud?" The story continues:
The more he gave away, the more delighted he became. When the water around him filled with glimmering scales, he at last felt at home among the other fish.
I asked the children, "So in giving up what he used to feel he was better than the other fish, his glittering scales, was the Rainbow Fish able to like the world more, to fit better with it?" "Yes, he's happy now he has friends," said Maria. I asked, "How are we going to fit with the world--by keeping away from it or by wanting to know it and welcome it?" "I want to learn about the world all the time," Nellie said.
I was moved as I saw the children's thoughtful faces at the end of this story. They all agreed that the Rainbow Fish was more beautiful when it shared its scales. "Did you like this story?" I asked. They shouted in unison, "YES!!" "Did it make your mind bigger?" "YES!!" and then there were spontaneous shouts "Read it again, read it again!"
To be continued: The Opposites of Separation and Junction;
or, How Letters Become New Words