I May Not Agree with What You Say…

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.”


3 thoughts on “I May Not Agree with What You Say…”

  1. Lyna and Diane,
    I agree with both of you for the most part, which is why there are some books I did not let into my house, but our children read many classics and more modern books that did have characters who do troubling things. The Young Adult literature under question is a far cry from that. Much of it depicts horrid things which, unfortunately, some children face, but most never come near.
    One area I don’t agree is that “the images are only as vivid as the reader’s imagination and are under the reader’s control.” While certainly books are less intrusive than movies, words can conjure up a picture which one might not want to implant in one’s brain. A few years ago, I read the first few pages of a book that was being highly acclaimed and I still regret letting those images in my mind.
    While I wasn’t as extreme as some others on the homeschooling list in my control of what my children read (or as easygoing as some others as well) those that were much more strict did bring up your point, Lyna, and I thought they made a reasonable case as to why they still decided to not let books with those real life situations in their homes. As I said, the exchange of ideas was fascinating.

  2. Movies run at their own pace, with music, special effects and other techniques to amplify an emotional response. Books are read at the reader’s pace, the images are only as vivid as the reader’s imagination and are under the reader’s control. Parents and children can read and discuss a book together, stop at a critical point, evaluate the character’s choices. This starts with picture books, “See how grumpy Alex was because he didn’t go to bed on time?”
    Evil does exist and cannot be ignored. Children need to learn to recognize it (from afar), know what choices (stated or not) are available, and the consequences(good and bad)of each choice. Yes, much current YA literature should not enter your home. But there are some excellent contemporary and classic fiction choices that let a child/young adult confront difficult or dangerous situations in a most controlled environment. Then, when facing the local bully or walking past the dysfunctional family down the street, they have “been there” before and are not completely clueless about what to do. Positive role models, certainly, but also how does a character deal with a quick temper, the shiny temptation, the devious relative?

  3. Parents who would never allow their children to associate with other children who spew profanity, allow their children to associate with book characters who do. Similarly, parents who would not want their child to be best friends with a slacker, or a child known to be dishonest or a thief, don’t mind if children “make friends” with such protagonists, who are often painted as heroes. At the least, exposing children to, say, violence or family discord de-sensitizes them to such things, and can even “normalize” behavior and circumstances we’d prefer our children to eschew and avoid. I don’t understand why parents don’t steer their children to uplifting stories and positive role models–that’s not censorship, that’s guidance toward worthwhile ideals. And if parents don’t do this, no one else will.

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