If you were unaware of the inaugural Summit on the Research and Teaching of Young Adult Literature that took place recently in Las Vegas, so was I. If you have pre-teenage and/or teenage children, you can’t afford to be.
This morning’s Wall Street Journal features an article about the summit by author and journalism professor Steve Salerno. (You need a subscription to read it online.) To anyone has been paying attention, young adult literature is increasingly dark and this summit suggests that things are getting worse. Unless you live off the grid and completely isolated, your children will be exposed to this form of literature. If your children go to school, some of it may very well be required reading.
The proponents of books that feature school shootings, sexual abuse, police shootings of unarmed young Black men and dysfunctional aberrations in general, argue that the books’ real-life issues help teens navigate their society. Mr. Salerno, in contrast, contends,
“The question [about such literature] takes on added relevance amid the significant uptick in rates of depression and suicide among teens. One has to wonder whether the dystopia effectively advertised in so much of our mass media plays some role in modern hopelessness. Are high rates of depression and suicide an organic outgrowth of life’s legitimate trials—or are they a crisis manufactured, at least in part, by painting life as so much more trying than it is?”
You know which side of the controversy gets my vote. In addition to the concerns Mr. Salerno voices, I think that the books, despite the cutting-edge educators’ claim that they are inspiring, promote hostility to one’s nation and family and encourage anger and feelings of victimization.
Do you remember the movie Stand and Deliver about calculus teacher Jaime Escalante, whose inner city students excelled at Advance Placement calculus? Which is more inspiring to a teen? A true story like that which suggests that with hard work you can overcome miserable schools, low expectations and dangerous neighborhoods or one that focuses on the hopelessness of miserable schools, low expectations and dangerous neighborhoods? While I haven’t read them I have a strong suspicion that today’s preferred books fall into the latter category.
Millions of teenagers live in perfectly normal and generally healthy and safe communities. For those who don’t, knowing that there are better places and role-models seems to me to be crucial for them to move on from where they are. I’m not suggesting presenting a Pollyanish view of the world, but balance would be commendable. Barraging teens with every variety of abnormality verges on abusing them, to my way of thinking. But I don’t have teens in my house. If you do, I encourage you to pay close attention to the messages they are getting.