What are these people trying to protect their children from?
As Pratchett tells it, when the headmistress accused Susan Sto Helit of teaching her elementary school students about the occult, Susan calmly said, "Of course". "But why?" the headmistress wails. "So they won't be shocked," Susan sensibly replies. Reality is shocking enough without sending them into the world unprepared.
The latest idiocy is the school board in Tennessee that has banned Maus from the eighth grade curriculum. Maus, one of the greatest of all novels, a singular work of art and compassion, recounting one of the most important stories of the 20th century. The board members object to some foul language and nudity. Yes, yes, they say, we know it’s important to teach about the state-sponsored murder of 10,000,000 – count the zeros – men, women, and children, but do we have to be so ugly about it? Can’t we find books that our tender babes can learn from without being exposed to indecent language and naked bodies? Holocaust-lite?
Can it be true that these ten fine upstanding citizens actually believe that these young teens have so far not been exposed to the ways that people actually talk? That they haven’t already been searching for, and easily finding, naked bodies on the internet? I could almost be sympathetic to their quest to preserve childhood innocence if it wasn’t such obvious evidence of how estranged from their children’s lives they already are.
Sometimes the bans are more blatantly ideological. A pandering state senator in Oklahoma puts forth a bill banning books related to "the study of sex, sexual preferences, sexual activity, sexual perversion, sex-based classifications, sexual identity, or gender identity or books that are of a sexual nature" from school libraries. He says, “our education system is not the place to teach moral lessons that should instead be left up to parents and families." The fear seems to be that these books might lead the unsuspecting child to discover that some people believe that being gay is not evil. How can a parent be expected to inculcate the appropriate revulsion in their children if there are school-sanctioned books emphasizing acceptance and love?
Most pathetic was the story that resurfaced during the recent gubernatorial campaign in Virginia about the mother outraged to find that her 17 year old was assigned Beloved in his AP English class. The kid said the book was disgusting and gave him night terrors. So he quit reading it. His mother turned his discomfort into a crusade. According to the 2013 WaPo article, the mother believed the content “could be too intense for teenage readers.” What does this even mean? Life can be too intense for teenagers! Shouldn’t we be emulating Susan Sto Helit and helping them learn how to deal with it? Pratchett’s character is riffing off G.K. Chesterton (a fine Christian gentleman, by the way). Children learn early that there are monsters. Stories teach them monstrosities can be overcome.
I was fortunate that I was nearly 50 when I entered into shared responsibility for the well-being and upbringing of JosieBug. I had no illusions about what we could protect her from. Better to put all of my effort into loving her and helping her learn to use her powers for good.
The all-powerful god of the Abrahamic religions couldn’t keep his children from eating the apple. We certainly can’t. Can we at least help them make good choices now that they’ve tasted the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil?