Some of you may be aware of a controversial book that has parents concerned in New Jersey, and several other states. This book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie can be found on many intermediate school library shelves and has become required reading for our freshmen high school students. I am writing today because I would like to address what I feel is an even greater concern that we are facing today as parents and educators.
Most people would agree that our country’s film and music industry often, shall we say, “lacks etiquette.” It is not surprising that young adult fiction has rapidly followed suit. What is surprising is that many of our schools have succumbed to the influence by throwing their high standards to the wind and adopting these unsuitable works into their curricula. While it is apparent that the naïve and simple adolescent world of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys is virtually extinct, what has not been quite as evident is how far young adult fiction has descended from that world and has begun to infiltrate our schools.
These days if a novel happens to slip under a parent’s radar it could be a costly price for their child to pay, as the contents of many of these young adult novels deemed educational would distress any principled adult. It seems that the infliction of impropriety through the media has created an overall deadening of the senses and has given way to the adaptation of an “anything goes” philosophy in many of our schools.
This new philosophy embraces the idea that an entertaining story that ends with a good message cancels out the fact that the young reader will be dragged through continuous perversities to arrive at that message. Any savvy parent or teacher should be able to recognize the futility of this objective. After all, we are dealing with kids who are not yet mature and tend to focus on the gross expletives and emulate them in writing. What you put into a child’s mind, he or she will gladly give back to you, as most children seek to please their parents and educators. This may seem like common sense but it is not a commonly shared philosophy in schools today.
On the contrary, schools are requiring that young children read these new age, graphic narratives filled with expletives. It is evident that they have not considered the potential devastation it will have over time on our children’s overall quality of learning, that is, if it hasn’t already. These books are replacing what could have been other great literary works of higher educational merit. Moreover, requiring children to read this style of writing within the walls of a school only validates the vulgarity they are constantly exposed to in the media, and gives credibility to the use of these expressions amongst their peers. This is precisely what parents are trying to counter on a daily basis, only to find that the schools are now working against them.
Furthermore, a story with a positive ending does not necessarily make for effective educative material, especially when minors are the recipients. For example, simply because a porn star is reformed doesn’t mean we should have children read the sordid details on his or her way to purity. Simply because a prison mate has found religion doesn’t mean we should subject a child to reading how he beat his wife senseless on his way to his conversion. And just because a Native American took the initiative to leave a destitute reservation doesn’t mean a child should read about how he “sticks his d**k in trees” on the way out (p. 225 of Alexie’s Diary).
Adults who used to be responsible for the protection of a child’s exposure to indecency and vulgarity have become muddled by the age of insolence, and sadly, have become victims of it themselves. We have all become desensitized to some degree, but many have become so without even knowing it in view of the fact that they can’t see “dirt” even when they are shown.
Technology and the media’s lack of decorum may be largely to blame, but the time has come for parents and teachers to take a step back and seriously consider how far we’ve drifted and the direction we want for our schools. We are all trying to mold competent children of character and conscience, however no one feels more strongly about this than parents, and it behooves teachers to heed their advice, in more ways than one.