Saturday, March 22, 2008

Book Nazis?

Last week's Teaching Assistant course, whilst still dull as heck, was notable for at least one thing. It was during a bit on equal opportunities that my back was well and truly gotten up.
The tutor produces a pile of children's books and proceeds to pass them round asking us to decide which ones were suitable for schools.

After much mulling and discussion of the books we were asked whether we thought our selections were suitable and promoted the right positive images to children.

Rejected so far had been Mr Large In Charge, where the daddy Elephant looks after the house for a night and chaos ensues. It portrayed men and fathers as stereotypically inept and lazy according to the tutor.
Also out was If I Was Boss, a brilliant book that Molly still loves, because it's central protagonist, a little girl, is far too bossy and mean to her mom.

I was last to be asked and had been stunned as I heard reasonable people swallowing the tutors reasons why certain books didn't portray the correct positive role models to primary age children.
So I went for it.

All books are suitable for children I said. It's only through experimentation that children learn and I heartily believe that you should only constrain them by their abilities. I wouldn't, for example give Molly a book written for adults, but I wouldn't police her reading at any level beneath that.
The only thing that reading should be promoting is a love of reading and a desire to gain knowledge.
Anything else merely suits those who would wish to see our children raised in a world that promotes blandness and safety above all things until all that is vibrant and interesting is driven out.

She was a little taken aback.

But surely you wouldn't let children read "Little Black Sambo" she asks? She's already listed that as one of those books we wouldn't dream of giving to children because it's far too racially insensitive. I told her of course not, because that one had been written in 1899 and used language that we now, rightly, consider completely inappropriate.
But to limit children to only nice, safe reading where every character has a positive role and nothing bad can ever be discussed? Isn't that just a little bit ridiculous? If we're going down that route, how many books, classics and modern do we have to get rid of? The list is practically endless.
The end result of this sort of thinking is a world where we're giving our children a sanitised, bland, beige world where literature begins and ends with topsy and tim.

Later that night I settled down to read Molly her bedtime story.
She's not really enjoying Mein Kampf but I felt I had a point to prove.

1 comment:

  1. Is it the illustrated version of Mein Kampf :-)?

    Nah, seriously I totally agree with you. The central idea behind encouraging reading is it is the surest way to expand a child (or adult)'s knowledge and imagination, make new links in the brain and encourage them to want to seek out more; censoring and controlling that reading material in such a heavy handed way not only defeats much of the purpose of reading it is also contrary to the actual idea of books and reading.

    I never had any of my reading policed as a child; in fact by age of 8 or 9 I was demanding access to the adult section of the local library and since I seemed to cope with it my parents let me. And without blowing my own trumpet I suspect I am better read and know more about literature than any of these politically correct eejits.

    Sadly many parents also buy into this nonsense - when I worked in the mainstream book trade the number of times I had to speak to some parent who wanted their little treasure to read a lot but only the 'right' types of books... Honestly, some wouldn't even let their kids read anything with magic in it in case it turned them into Satanists. You expect that in Missouri but not Edinburgh... Or try explaining to a mother that her 14 year old daughter wanting to read a book with Wiccans in it doesn't mean she is dabbling in the black arts but is interesting in connecting with like minded souls and using Wicca and the books as a form of self empowerment... Blank looks...

    Christ, just give the kids the books, let them read them and then, critically, let them ask you questions about it, because they will ask and that's how they complete the learning started by reading...

    Strangely there is almost never an objection to young kids reading bits of the Bible, which is full of sexism, violence, rape, misogyny, murder...