Save Children’s Literature

A reading list should awaken children to the great classics, on whose cultural foundation the modern literary firmament was built.

Taking some notes on a Quillette article, “A Plea to Save Children’s Literature” by Carla Wilson.

There is a wide gulf between professional class of teachers and the conservative parents. The school board uses politically correct jargon language (“critical, anti-oppression lens”) when the parent would prefer that children read and appreciate classic texts. Children’s lit is mired in identity politics—books are either deplatformed or taught through the lens of grievance studies.

“When To Kill a Mockingbird is taught outside of this context, the novel has the potential to cause hurt and harm.” Why?

Groups investigate and challenge systemic racism against black students. There is demand “for changes in learning material that portrays black people in a negative context, to have educators offer positive and encouraging comments to black students in classrooms,” and so on. They expressed a fervent desire for more materials and training about combating racism.

The ideal teacher is the teacher-activist who has memorized a list of fashionable terms, and labors tirelessly to proselytize colleagues in regard to these approved mantras.
a colleague who’d done work “to help students succeed, such as equity and inclusion, providing gender-neutral washrooms, acknowledgement of First Nations lands, student census, and support for black boys.”

Educators should be alive to the possibility that the classics might need to be supplemented, or even replaced, by new books. Use of social media activism has turbocharged this process.

One school recently assigned its Grade 6 students the following books: Refugee by Alan Gratz (examination various modern refugee crises), The Other Boy by M.G Hennessey (gender transitioning), Shattered by Eric Walters (homelessness, PTSD, and the plight of military veterans), Bifocal by Eric Walters (racism) and We All Fall Down by Eric Walters (the 9/11 attacks).

Is it perhaps better to assign kids modern books that deal with more modern issues? No. The function of a reading list shouldn’t just be to educate students about current concerns. It should also be to awaken them to the great classics, on whose cultural foundation the modern literary firmament was built. Another function of older books is that they introduce young readers to words, phrases and cultural references that will show up on standardized tests and in college coursework.

The pattern now is to denude language, not enrich it. “While vocabulary used to be ‘free range,’ now it feels policed against political correctness and difficult language.” They use easier words because they think kids won’t understand it? That’s just stupid.

Books take kids to another world. Books provided a connective tissue between kids daily life and the possibilities that await.

“Streatfeild’s characters brimmed with curiosity, ingenuity and resilience. It never would have occurred to me that these qualities would take any different form if they’d be personified by characters with different skin colors or pronouns.”

Reading is a gateway to empathy and understanding. It is also a heady cocktail of language, characters and themes whose lingering memory shape our thinking for a lifetime. A curriculum shaped by equity officers—as opposed by true lovers of literature—will always ill-serve students, because it inevitably will focus on the limits of human experience, not its possibilities. Many school boards have committed to teaching students that the defining features of their experience and consciousness is their status as racialized, disabled, transgender, cisgender, refugee, Indigenous, “settler,” black, white—grievances to be catalogued and parsed.

Featured Image : Pixabay

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