It's a rotten job (in more ways than one) but somebody's gotta do it!
|Kids need to read. There is no way around that. When I was a kid I survived the beginnings of my academic career to the end of grade two without being able to read much. The reason why was hilarious. I hated what they gave me to read.
"Look Jane. See Spot run. Run Spot. Run...." and so forth.
And then Dr Suess showed up in my life. And the rest was history. I hit the ground, running.
Fast forward a lot of years. We fall all over ourselves to get kids to read. Younger than ever. We throw reading material at them like peanuts to October squirrels. We tackle this job with some sense of urgency, believing it to be the important bedrock to the fundamentals of education. And so it is.
And once they learn to read, what then? Well, the little darlings have no idea what is down the road, what the public education system has in store for them.
When I went through it, politics and education were complete strangers to each other. The education came first. The politics came later. Not so much, anymore.
Imagine for a moment, millions, tens of millions of books, for a kid to read. The kind of stuff a kid may encounter in their long journey through a public lower education. What we call K-12. (Sounds like kennel dog food, doesn't it?)
Imagine all those books in their original, unabridged editions. Published exactly as the author wrote them. Like a marriage between reader and writer, for better or for worse. That nice little arrangement known as freedom of the press. Read it, kid. Make of it what you will. Love it, hate it, leave it alone. It's all up to you.
I don't mean of the Washingtonian variety necessarily. The Party poopers, or partisans, or any of the rest of the grand parade, masquerade, courtly and portly promenading pomposity. (Or anyone else really who actually might have a bright idea or two.)
I mean the politics of control. Over education. Thought. Expression. All those concerned with the end result. Which apparently must be as perfect as a utopian comedy. Only it ain't so funny anymore.
We have come to a point (and what I'm describing here is the stuff that a kid may encounter in school. It does not include in any way what that same kid may encounter in most any public library, or private book collection at home, should said kid be lucky enough to be growing up in a home that actually has a private book collection) where all, or most, or much of the reading matter that will be presented to a kid is first...altered.
It is sanitized. Sifted. Shifted. Air-brushed. Triple-inspected. Changed. Edited. Corrected. Altered. Processed. I like that one - like cheese. For consumption. Often without any educational or intellectual nutritional value whatsoever.
Hell. I began reading Baldwin at 11.
This....thing, that they do. Why do they do it? They do it because they can. And by that I mean (because they could never do this to what I read. I'm an adult, for heaven's sake!) - they do it because it's kids. Kids don't fight back. They don't revolt, rebel, boycott, threaten, or fight back in any way, really. They just take what they're given. Because they're kids. And they bow to authority. Which isn't necessarily a bad idea when you're a kid, but it depends.
Before I get into the main course of the meal here, I feel compelled to mention a thing. Something I hear now all over the place. That kids can't read. They don't read. They don't want to read. They have no interest in reading. And we wonder why?
Censorship is a very strange animal. It has a long nose and it sniffs around for incorrect words, thoughts, ideas, expressions. It sees language as a bed of hot coals, a short fuse to a long powder keg, a problematic construct, a seething mess of oppressive impact. The bedrock of a status quo, an elite, a structural hierarchy plotted against humanity. Which could cause language as we know it to disappear into a black hole and never emerge again, as anything that we recognize as useful in our human adventures.
If a book or any other reading material is deemed to be full of 'hate writing' it could very well be that this is indeed, a half-truth. The writing is hated, all right. For what it says, expresses, means, teaches, explains, or informs. Yet there is no hate in the writing at all. What this really means, is that the writing is disagreed with. Which is fine. Because this presents a golden opportunity to debate it. Refute it. Argue and challenge it. But that requires real work. Which is an exercise that has riddled the history of the western canon since the invention of the printing press. We must wonder why it is, that this is no longer desirable, necessary, or even thought of as a good thing in any way.
But I consider what's at stake. Any book can contain within its pages something to disagree with. By anybody, at any time, anywhere, and for any reason. No book will ever satisfy everyone everywhere all the time, for ever and ever. It isn't possible. And so we come back to the very basics of an idea that is the reason for freedom of the press. Because we know in the back of our minds, that a book can be hated for many reasons. As many reasons as it can be loved. And there is never any absolute control over that. Just as there can be no absolute control over people, as readers (or writers, for that matter) unless - they do not live in a society free enough to enjoy the freedom of its press.
Imagine taking a book, any book, of 350 pages. And chopping it into 40 pages, most of them re-written. And this is done to "correct" the book. Or the book is just completely tossed, and its replacement produced. By an author who possibly could not hold a candle to the original. Again, I have to repeat - this is not being done to anything I find in my library system, both public and university. But it is being done to public school materials, and has been done to them for some time now.
On the subject of what is "correct" or incorrect, for that matter, I'll say not a word of that here. I will leave that up to your imagination, dear reader. But of course, this is the fuel that drives the engines of that great big mean machine. The one that chews up and spits out our concerted body of knowledge that millions labored over for several dozen generations.
I agree that part of the reason why kids can't, don't or won't read, has to do with all the distractions in their modern lives. That's true. But the other half of the story has to do with the actions of the very people who get to decide what is correct and incorrect on their behalf. They are friendly to something or someone, but whatever that is, it certainly isn't to kids.
Did I mention that I started to read James Baldwin at the tender age of 11? I have no idea really, but my school teacher that year probably would have been scandalized, had she known. Or maybe not.