Lighting Their Fires: Interview with Bestselling Author Rafe Esquith

Rafe Esquith, Photo by Heather Harris

Rafe Esquith, Photo by Heather Harris

No back-to-school shopping would be complete this year without a copy of Lighting Their Fires, a new book for parents by Los Angeles author and veteran middle school teacher Rafe Esquith. Follow-up to his New York Times Bestselling book, Teach Like Your Hair is On Fire, the book is a powerful tool to help children not only do better in school, but to do better in life.


Framed by a class trip Esquith took with his students to Dodger Stadium, the book reveals its lessons – simple concepts to build character and help students to develop more fulfilling and enriching lives – as, inning by inning, we follow the Dodgers through a hard-fought game against the Cardinals. The concepts include: Punctuality, Focus, Decision Making, Taking Pride in What You Do, Selflessness, Humility, Patience, and Teaching Kids to Grow.
There’s a long list of qualities to appreciate about this book – and about its author. For the LA Books Examiner, a somewhat disgruntled survivor of the Los Angeles Unified School District, I’ll focus mainly on two topics that really impressed me.
First, Esquith’s teaching strategies are grounded in decision-making and problem-solving techniques – not monotonous memorization or mindless multiple choices. In Room 56, Esquith’s class at Hobart Elementary School, children aren’t treated as soulless robots or computers. Instead they are taught qualities that enhance their ability to learn and serve to prepare them to face real challenges and obstacles that await them in their quest for higher learning.  
Second, this is not a book about theories. It’s not written by an academic or specialist far removed from the classroom setting either. Rafe Esquith is a teacher with 24 years of experience. He’s the only teacher who has ever been awarded the president’s national Medal of the Arts. His other honors and awards include the American Teacher Award, Parents magazine’s As You Grow Award, Oprah Winfrey’s Use Your Life Award, and People magazine’s Heroes Among Us Award.  Lighting Their Fires is a slim volume of thoughtful suggestions for parents – concepts from an experienced teacher who is getting it done – based on the premise that any child can be extraordinary. And while these concepts can’t be measured by any standardized testing method, the results are truly remarkable and speak for themselves.
But don’t take my word for it. Visit Hobart’s Shakespeareans and see for yourself what the students of Room 56 can accomplish. These students are not from some expensive prep school. This is Hobart Elementary, a tough, inner-city school in Los Angeles. That’s right. Many of these children come from poor and troubled families, most of whom only speak English as a second language. And yet these children voluntarily show up to school at 6:30 a.m. and often stay until it’s dark. They come to school on Saturdays and during their vacations to read and perform Shakespeare! They take field trips together and, like the Dodger game that frames this story, they create an experience of learning and fun that sticks with them forever. Most importantly, they go on to college, hungry for knowledge, and can’t help but to return again to Room 56 to inspire and encourage others to do the same.
Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Kids in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World by Rafe Esquith is available in stores on Tuesday August 25th.
On Wednesday, August 26, you can meet Rafe Esquith and a few of the students from Room 56 at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd, Pasadena at 7 p.m. (626) 449-5320.
I had the great opportunity to interview Rafe Esquith recently about his book and his life, and I hope you’ll take a few more minutes to read our discussion here.

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