I do like the New York Times, but I often wonder where their parenting/education reporters live. They seem to be in a time warp, discovering issues like “the dark side of mothering,” “helicopter parents,” and preschool admission stress sometime after they’ve died out as the hot topics at the playlots in my neighborhood. Maybe the Times reporters are just younger than me, or have kids younger than mine?
In any case, I was amused to see that the Times has discovered the Junie B. controversy.
This is their summation of the issue:
Their disagreement is a pint-size version of the lingering education battle between advocates of phonics, who believe children should be taught proper spelling and grammar from the outset, and those who favor whole language, a literacy method that accepts misspellings and other errors as long as children are engaged in reading and writing.
They also note that Junie B. is quite the troublemaker.
It was an interesting read, since I’ve been a vocal Anti-Junie myself, though never to the point of suggesting that the books be removed from the library. (I’ve also given away any copies we’ve ended up with rather than toss them, as one parent in the article does.)
We came across Junie B. at a challenging time — Violet was really struggling to fit in at school, and had already told me a few times in preschool in Kindergarten that she wished she didn’t know how to read, so she wouldn’t be different from the other kids. When Violet started in with making regular grammar and spelling mistakes on purpose at school — not just from time to time, but all the time — I put the kibosh on Junie B. all together. (It had never been a staple in our house anyway, although we all really liked the Junie B. diary Violet got from her grandparents.)
Junie B. is not just a first grader, like the kid at the next desk, she’s the first grader. As with most things put into print, she takes on a more authoritative status, like a printed reference manual for typical 6-year-old behavior. For an atypical 6-year-old constantly on the lookout for clues to the great puzzle of “fitting in”—like poor Violet told me she was—Junie B. seems like the perfect role model. I can’t speak for other families, but for our family Junie B. was a particularly vivid example of why first grade—which I had hoped would be so wonderful—turned out to be so toxic for my PG girl.
So yes, I dislike the bad grammar and the bad behavior. My kid, like lots of kids, absorbs books whole, swallows them up, and then talks and acts like she lives inside them. (Even when Violet is not using her British accent—of which she is quite proud—she comfortably tosses out many of her Britishisms from Harry Potter and other readings.) But I’ve never worried about Dobby or Hagrid being a bad influence on her language, and I worry only slightly about Harry and co. encouraging her love of sneaking and general mischief.
My main problem with Junie B. is summed up by what the author says about Junie’s bad language and behavior:
That’s just her being a 5-year-old.
Argh! Can you hear it ringing in my ears? Can you tell I still get upset about it? “Just let her be a child.” “Are you trying to get her into college by 10?” “Children all even out by 3rd grade.” “Children tell parents what they think they want to hear.”
“Just being” a child—believe me, keeping Junie B. out of the house was a part of the effort to let Violet “just be” Violet.