appropriate books

I came across this article in The Atlantic.

I’m sure there are some parents who, if asked, would say that they don’t want to have their seventh graders exposed to narratives about suicide, or torture, or God, or sex, and don’t want them to read the word “fuck.” There are probably parents who would be horrified to learn that my third-grader is reading Louise Erdrich’s The Birchbark House at his Waldorf school — a book in which (my son informs me) virtually everyone dies in a hideous smallpox epidemic. Maybe someone would be offended, too, by the book he read about the Chicago fire (too violent!) or by the Norse myths he’s studying (too pagan!).

The truth is, outside of arithmetic, it’s hard to teach anything worth learning that someone won’t find offensive or upsetting or frightening or off-putting. If it’s interesting, if it’s something people care about, then people are going to have opinions about it. That means somebody, somewhere, isn’t going to like it. The drive to keep our children perfectly safe from dangerous knowledge just ends up reducing their education to a bland, boring, irrelevant slog.

True. But the more interesting question is — the children are reading an entire book already in third grade? In a waldorf school? Or the teacher is reading it to them? The latter seems likely, but not the former.

I don’t mind cruel stories. They seemed to match my mindset better. Match my own nightmares. But, anyway — there have been heated discussions about this topic in the past on the critics list, if I’m not mistaken. So I won’t repeat myself. I don’t believe in protecting children from cruel tales, unless you can also protect them from life itself. And you can’t. Whether every controversial topic is as important to cover at school, well, I’m less sure about that, unless a story or a piece of art has literary or artistic qualities, in which case almost everything is all right as far as I’m concerned.

One thought on “appropriate books

  1. … also what made this article so funny was the mention of the epidemic — now that idea ought to work (and cause no distress) in a waldorf school, neither as fiction nor as reality…

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