Marva Collins, the controversial Chicago educator, begins each school year by reading ""Self-Reliance"" aloud to her Westside Prep class. The ghetto youngsters who follow along in the text are non-readers, perhaps as young as six, and they also get a full dose of Marva's philosophy. ""We all come here to make life better. And the knowledge that you put inside your heads is going to save whom? You, not me. Mr. Emerson is telling us to trust our own thoughts, to think for ourselves."" Throughout her chronicle of Westside Prep's development, Collins' convictions and personality are more compelling than her pedagogical principles. Good teachers have always believed in praise, had high expectations, taught vocabulary, and wanted their students to be ""idea readers, not word readers."" Collins' use of such classic techniques with children who have previously failed makes sense--but what she does, far more than that, is ""brainwash them into succeeding."" Students are told that they are sagacious (and that it means ""smart and wise""); nudged into answering (""Darling, you'll have to speak much louder than that""); and reminded that learning leads to economic gains. As a role model, Collins dresses in cashmeres and tweeds. Because she learned to love Shakespeare at nine, children as young as four discuss Macbeth (with a special Collins, freewill inflection). And first-person reminiscences of her childhood, her teaching days in other schools, and her Westside Prep experiences all point up the control she has exercised over her own life. Recent questions about Westside methods and results notwithstanding, the Collins charisma makes for lively reading.