My soon to be eight year old grandson has taken to peppering his conversation with phrases like, “Golly” and “That’s swell”. This is not surprising for those of us who know of his fascination with the Hardy Boys series. He is an avid reader and books expand his vocabulary (sometimes amusingly) as well as his knowledge of geography, history and so much more.
But danger as well as treasure can lurk in books. While the Hardy brothers with their sense of responsibility, honesty and respect for law are welcomed into his home, his mother, the doorkeeper, keeps some other books out. Recently, supervision of reading material was a hot topic on a homeschool web discussion group to which she and I both belong. The fascinating and provocative exchange of ideas that shot across cyberspace is one of the reasons I stay on this group even though my own homeschooling days are over.
To an outsider, the group would seem to be homogeneous; Jewish mothers and fathers who approach homeschooling from a Torah perspective. However, even within those parameters, differences emerged. Members passionately (homeschoolers tend to be passionate about anything having to do with their children) explained why they do – or don’t – allow their children to read various genres of literature; what types of books they prefer; and how strictly – or leniently – they impose their views on their children.
Despite the variety of opinions, respect for each other’s ideas permeated the conversation. Just the opposite took place when the Wall Street Journal’s children’s book reviewer, Meghan Cox Gurdon, wrote an article criticizing how dark young adult literature has become. While her point seemed a no-brainer to me since I long ago learned to steer clear of much of current young adult literature, it provoked a firestorm of controversy. As she wrote in her follow-up article, “If the American Library Association were inclined to burn people in effigy, I might well have gone up in smoke these past few days.” Many who disagreed with her engaged in personal attacks on her intelligence and character rather than her ideas.
The contrast between the conversation on my homeschool group and the one sparked by the Journal article was stark. The fact that so many of the belligerent participants were young adult authors, librarians and teachers, seemed to me to be one more reason not to entrust one’s children to their influence. While, to their credit, some later offered apologies for their ad-hominem assaults, the vehemence and nastiness of the offensive suggested that Ms. Cox Gurdon was quite accurate when she said in opposition to crude and violent literature, “Entertainment does not merely gratify taste, after all, but creates it.”