Young Minds And Books: A Dangerous Combination?

This week is Banned Books Week, a week to contemplate the various works of literature that for whatever reason have historically been deemed too dangerous for public consumption. Where the Wild Things Are, The Diary of a Young Girl, and The Old Man and The Sea are among them. The one that surprised me the most was A Light in the Attic. Many of these books were written for young readers and placed on banned lists by adults claiming to guard the interests of said young readers. Tuck that away for later because I’m coming back to it.

Something else has happened this week, and I’m trying to decide if its overlap with Banned Books Week was planned or coincidental. In the suburb of Denver where I grew up, teachers and students from several high schools, including the one from which I graduated, are striking and staging protests against a proposed curriculum change. The gist of the the problem is this, as quoted on thedenverchannel.com:

The school district proposed creating a curriculum review board that would make sure materials in history class do not “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”

What’s the underlying message there? We’d better not show how people in the past fought against injustice or broke the law, because it might make these students think it’s okay and want to do the same. 

Does that scare anyone else? Maybe young people will one day find themselves in a position where they should engage in a little civil unrest, but that’s a different post for a different day.

If that curriculum change takes effect, should we assume that all study of wars, civil rights, and… well, basically anything that’s historically significant will no longer occur?

I think the question surrounding Banned Books Week and what’s happening in the schools is the same: can young people handle the difficult, even sordid truths about the human condition? 

Like the situation in the schools, there are underlying messages behind book banning: if she reads this book about dating and sex, she’ll become promiscuous. If he reads this book about gang violence, he’ll become desensitized to violence. Letting her read this book about a wizard will lead to her shunning her religion and practicing witchcraft. This book about death will make him sad, and he’s too young to grapple with that. 

I said earlier that adults who bthoughtan books (or change a curriculum) likely think they’re guarding the delicate sensibilities of young readers by restricting what they read or study. I have a question for those adults: at what point is it okay for kids to learn how to think, not what to think?

Books are a safe place to explore ideas and situations that are different from our own. That doesn’t mean we accept them. I’m not going to think kids murdering each other is okay because I read The Hunger Games (though I wonder if my former school district will ban that series as well, since it portrays civil unrest). The world is a messy, fallen place, but it’s one worth writing and reading about. Stories provide a means for understanding the world.

I read an article today that said Banned Books Week is about the celebration of intellectual freedom (read it here). I think it’s also about realizing the world is full of diverse people experiencing wildly different lives, who think and do things that are different than what we think and do, and that it all matters. Isn’t that a message we want to send to our kids?

14 thoughts on “Young Minds And Books: A Dangerous Combination?

  1. Yes! “Diary of Anne Frank” and other banned books should and can be used as tools to learn from, not be afraid of…. Well said. Too much “protection” and not enough “freedom to think” is a more dangerous road to travel.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Uncertain Tales and commented:
    An excellent post from Allison Maruska that I thought deserved re-blogging. I also figured it would be an excellent way to cover a day in which I’m not going to have an opportunity to write anything of my own! Allison’s post reminded me of this following article from the Philosopher’s Mail: http://thephilosophersmail.com/190214-tragedy-sophocles.php

    “Rather than regarding these stories as grotesque spectacles that all right-minded people should avoid, the philosopher Aristotle looked generously upon the human fascination with them. He proposed that, when they are well written and artfully staged, such stories can become crucial resources for the emotional and moral education of a whole society. Despite the barbarity they describe, they themselves can function as civilizing forces.”

    Offensive subjects, Violence, Tragedy – provided the material is handled artfully and well written, they can be a motivating force for good, for change. Banning all books that handle material like this denies the young reader an opportunity to learn from story, to learn from the mistakes of others, or the mistakes of the past.
    – An excellent read.

    Cheers
    KT

    Like

  3. That proposed curriculum change is horrifying. How would you “encourage or condone” social strife anyway? Doesn’t that just kind of happen? Unless they’re just trying to keep anyone from learning about civil rights at all, which basically means they’re worried people will find out their civil rights are being violated.

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  4. Wow. This was an awesome post, first of all. You put a ton of thought into it, and I really enjoyed it. The Aristotle quote was on point! Furthermore, I believe the way children are exposed to horrible events (such as wars) leads them a certain way. If it’s written in a history book, I believe it’s harder to grasp just how tragic something is. On the other hand, I think if a record of war is reported by a journalist, the vision of the event changes. What I’m trying to say: I believe point of view may have something to do with how kids interpret events–real or fictional.

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  5. I certainly don’t think we should teach anything but the truth about history, so I disagree with the softening of the historical facts. As for books, I believe the age of the child has a lot to do with it. As parents we try to instill certain morals/values into our children. If they are exposed to certain ideas/concepts too soon, it can cause confusion, anxiety, etc. Of course, if you are actually talking about teens/young adults, that is certainly an age where readers should be able to handle differing opinions/ideas and make up their own minds about what they decide to think/believe.

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  6. Great post. It reminded me of this article in the Philosopher’s Mail on Tragedy in Stories: http://thephilosophersmail.com/190214-tragedy-sophocles.php

    “Rather than regarding these stories as grotesque spectacles that all right-minded people should avoid, the philosopher Aristotle looked generously upon the human fascination with them. He proposed that, when they are well written and artfully staged, such stories can become crucial resources for the emotional and moral education of a whole society. Despite the barbarity they describe, they themselves can function as civilizing forces.”

    Offensive subjects, Violence, Tragedy – provided the material is handled artfully and well written, they can be a motivating force for good, for change. Banning all books that handle material like this denies the young reader an opportunity to learn from story, to learn from the mistakes of others, or the mistakes of the past.

    Thanks for this.
    KT

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    • “Banning all books that handle material like this denies the young reader an opportunity to learn from story” – Exactly. I, for one, would prefer to live in a society where young people have been allowed to learn. Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Reblogged this on Eclectic Alli and commented:
    Another great post for Banned Book Week.
    “I think the question surrounding Banned Books Week and what’s happening in the schools is the same: can young people handle the difficult, even sordid truths about the human condition? ”
    And “I have a question for those adults: at what point is it okay for kids to learn how to think, not what to think?” are two points that especially stand out to me!

    Like

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