I’ve been getting deeper into the Norton’s I mentioned in my past post. My daughter had already found a book by E. Nesbit in there and was happily reading it. I wandered into the discussion on Little Red Riding Hood.
It was fascinating, reading hundreds of years’ worth of interpretations on this story. But then it got bad. In the middle of an anthology on children’s lit I found a story, or excerpt, about a young woman dealing with a Jerry Springer kind of dysfunctional family. The story passage was loaded with nasty landmines: f-bombs, references to sexual assault of the child protagonist, and a clinging attitude of random and directed rage. Sure, rage goes with rape. But neither goes with kid’s lit. What is wrong with people?
I often make the comparison between nutrition and reading. I’m not the inflexible strident advocate of broccoli and nutritional yeast and nothing else. That really is a stereotype that serves only the wicked, anyway. I think good food and yummy food are great. I also know that sometimes medicinal teas taste lousy but work miniature miracles. I like potato chips and the occasional ho-ho treat. In books, I expect a certain standard, which means I usually end up reading the classics. I also like some graphic novels, and I like funny short stories like “You’re on Next Sunday” by John B. Keane, wherein two drunks play rugby with the ghosts of a graveyard and get away with cheating. This is a worthwhile comparison. Food for the belly, food for the soul.
In our school curriculum, the kids like to keep a running tab of sorts comparing how many ways recycling gets worked into each and every course. It’s in Science class, it’s in Health class, it’s in Math and Language Arts and Social Studies and Educational Technology (computer) class. It was seriously discussed during speech therapy.
How often does honesty get discussed? The honor code is vaguely referred to once or twice a year in official statements. Other than that, honesty is not a theme or general characteristic of reading assignments. It is not mentioned as an attribute of health, in scientific readings, or studies of history. It just isn’t considered a pressing issue like recycling. And while cheating has become more of a problem, I can’t help but wonder if this is a very probable situation: that more cheaters recycle than recyclers cheat.
The nasty violence of our world is an adult issue. It is perpetrated against children- but only by criminally minded sociopaths and psychopaths. It’s our job to protect kids from this, and when some poor children have been subjected to such evils in real life, we help them recover from it and during whatever long term process that is, their goal should be to become the best person they can be. And I will even go so far as to say that reading about such evils may help a suffering child work through their own trauma. But it may just as well add to their trauma. For the child that has not experienced such things, it serves no one to hurt their spirits and minds with ideas of rape and hatred of children. Unless we are grooming them. Whether a victim of sex trafficking or a child of wholesome safe families, both deserve to work through their troubles and build upwards, build better, imagine better, grow healthier, and not linger over the evil in their lives. Every one of us can ask for better than that, we can reach for it, plan for it, and accomplish some form of better in our lives. The after effects of evil may still be with us, but that is not the focus of our lives. We are meant to be good, to choose good, and to do good.
The irony in the Norton’s? In an earlier section (“New Canadian Readers, pg. 139) the editors refer to previous editors of readers who chose readings that would interest children, which will “lead to a love of literature”. But then the Norton’s editor states this: “Today’s first reading books never mention “love of literature” in their prefaces.” Perhaps this is not academic after all. Perhaps Norton’s is a witness and testament of the abuse we heap upon our children, stripping them of childhood, innocence, love, wonder, and joy. May God have mercy on us.
One last note: we have lost heroes in favor of protagonists, and many times in favor of antagonists and bad guys. We have lost interest in Good insofar as it is depicted as Boring. We have cultured a taste in Evil the way a criminal predator will groom his victims, proceeding from justifying talk about illicit unhealthy acts to showing it in words and pictures with the end goal being acts of evil, the consumption of the victim, the continuation of addiction and crime and damage for and to the perpetrator. This is not civilization, this is barely a society. It is wallowing in the muck and mocking those who will point it out as the filth it is. Let us be greater than this- greater than the sum of our parts, greater as in nobler, with dignity, true happiness, and a deep seated joy of life. That takes great effort of a very different sort. But is in entirely possible, it is never too late, and it reaps us rewards we cannot begin to imagine.