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Friday, February 1, 2008

Thoughts on censorship

Life is just full of contradictions.

Because I'm a parent, I hope that my children will grow to have a similar value system to my own.

Because I'm a thinking person, I want my children to make informed choices. After all, I was neither pre-equipped with a value system, nor did I have it installed. It has been (and continues to be) an evolving process of assimilating information and adjusting my perspective.

I've always been against censorship. Dissension in thoughts and ideas is essential. And revisionist versions of history are fundamentally dishonest. In an academic sense, I realize that it's important to know about the past in order to understand the present and shape the future. I like to think that I have a comprehensive enough understanding of changing attitudes and social climates to frame a piece of written work in the mores of the day, blah blah blah.

But it's sometimes difficult to keep that in mind when I put on my Mommy hat and read to the kids.

There's always this moment of...hesitation...when I come across what I consider to be objectionable material in children's literature. I wonder for just a moment whether I should gloss over certain things, or eliminate them from our library. Because I do not want my kids to grow up with certain ideas and values...whether it be racism, sexism, ageism, colonialism, or any other number of unfortunate -isms.
A person shouldn't believe in an -ism; he should believe in himself.
--Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Frankly, it's uncomfortable to read certain things to my sons. In particular, classic children's literature seems to be filled with scenes with children being casually beaten, and often for unintentional transgressions. (Especially the poor children who lived in that shoe!)

But then I think of how much I have always frowned on sanitized, politically-correct versions of nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and the like. And I remember that most of these images did not register with me on the same level when I read them as a child.
"Sometimes an elephant in a green suit is just an elephant in a green suit"
--Should We Burn Babar?, Herbert Kohl
I also realize and appreciate that questionable material of any sort is a terrific opening for dialogue on difficult issues. What will help my child more: to pretend that certain attitudes don't exist, or to take the opportunity to have a discussion about why people might act a certain way, and what our feelings are on the subject? Not to mention, one of my primary objectives in learner-led education is to broaden my childrens' worldview, not to narrow it. You'll never learn anything by limiting your input to ideas with which you already agree.

So even though a few of the books on their shelves make me shudder, we are going to keep them.

But I still won't sing "Rock-a-Bye Baby" to any child. That just disturbs me.

1 comment:

  1. Well, you know my 'rock-a-bye-baby' lyrics! ;-)

    I do editing & glossing over yet for Theo -- but not for Nic. He's ready to integrate the realities.

    You just modify as they mature.