School is right around the corner and soon you will be receiving the syllabi for your teenager’s English class. English teacher confession: This day makes us most nervous. Too often, the day we release the reading list there is 24-48 hours of radio silence before parents begin to question the books that are chosen or required for their student to study.
First, before you stop reading, let me say this: I believe it is a parent’s right to decide what their child should and should not read. Especially when they are in elementary and middle school. Brains develop differently, maturity happens in different places and not all 5th graders are emotionally ready to read The Diary of Anne Frank. I get that and I totally concur. However, I think by the time your kid gets into high school, censorship is dangerous. For many reasons – first, over 50% of high school students carry a smartphone in their pocket to school. As cliche as it sounds, the world is literally at their fingertips. And if your kid doesn’t have one, the kid sitting next to him in class does. High School students hear (and most use) profanity hourly in the hallway, at their lockers, even in class. They are exposed to explicit content in music. Most of the movies they see have a liberal attitude toward sex, language and violence. And let’s not forget the mature nature of most of the video games they play in our basement.
Content is the number one complaint by parents about the books that their children read. But I would argue that what student visualize and imagine in their minds can’t be nearly as graphic as what they see during their nightly binge of DVR.
I think as parents it is important to know what your kid is reading and studying in school. I also think it’s important that parents understand that novels and curriculum is selected delicately, by a county-wide committee, to ensure that appropriate content is placed in the correct grades. I completely understand why you wouldn’t want you 9th grade daughter to read about rape and violence in The Kite Runner but did you consider that the understanding and critical thinking that may emerge from in class discussions could lead to a lifetime of tolerance and advocacy? Did you ever consider that one scene does not define an entire novel? She may, through her study of this novel, find herself passionate about human rights or religious tolerance. At the very least, you may be able to engage in conversation, together, about perseverance, guilt and redemption. She could develop a more worldly view and become a better thinker, communicator or citizen of the world.
The reality is: she will be leaving your nest sooner than later. And sheltering her now feels like protection but you are only weakening her ability to function on her own in the future.
By denying her the right to study about a relevant topic as it pertains to the world today you are closing off her ability to think and create and question for herself. Isn’t that what school is supposed to teach your kids? How to be thinking, creative, compassionate people? I ask this: Why wouldn’t you want to have your child read controversial material and have a guided, confined discussion in a classroom setting where a trained professional helps the student navigate the material? The purpose of the classroom is to set the boundaries for discussion and to help the students navigate through not the what happened but the why did that happen and what do you think about that. To be smart is to question. And learn. You have to burst the bubble around you in order to think beyond just the cover or what the internet says is wrong with the novel.