Contains Some Adult Themes

It says here in my copy of Blogging for Complete Morons* that

…Parent bloggers are allowed, in fact it’s a requirement, to post complaints about how their kids are getting assigned too much homework in the months of September and October. Posts of this nature at any other time are considered bad form.

Any time is a good time to post about the dearth of non-skanky clothes for tween girls, however.

Well, dang, I’d really like to complain about Zaphod’s 4-5 hours of homework a night, but it does seem kind of silly to do it in December. But watching Zaphod struggle with a particular book report this week, something else occurred to me; something that would be appropriate any time of year.

Zaphod is an accelerated reader. He’s in 4th grade and reads at an 8th grade level. I’m not telling you this in a “My Child is an Honor Student at…” way; this fact is very important to what I’m trying to say. Anyway, St Bob’s Academy really pushes their accelerated reading program, and for that I’m thankful.

However, this brings up an interesting problem. This year we have been putting middle school / high school themes and thoughts into a 10-year-old mind. He just finished doing a report on an old book called “The Machine Gunners”. He’s a 10 year old boy, of course he was attracted to the subject matter. When I asked him what he thought of the book, he said “It was depressing”. I can’t tell you how weird it is to hear your 10 year old son say those words.

Looking through the book, I realized what he was talking about. It was written in 1975 (and was there ANYTHING written in the mid-70’s that wasn’t depressing?). This book had it all: death, betrayal, personal agony. I thought to myself, isn’t it a little soon to be introducting this kind of stuff?. But alas, we have no choice.

Think back on the books and short stories they had you read in middle school and early high school. I don’t know about you, but the assignments I had were ALL DEPRESSING! The Lottery, The Scarlet Letter, The Stone Boy, The Grapes of Wrath (and for some reason, they all had titles that started with ‘The’)

It’s a wonder I didn’t slit my wrists in 8th grade.

Now, here’s an intersting chicken/egg thought. We all know that kids in 7th,8th,9th and 10th grades are filled with angst and are generally sullen, meloncholy creatures. How much of this attitude is actually caused by their school reading lists?

*Blogging for Complete Morons is not a real book.


One Response to “Contains Some Adult Themes”

  1. Kat Coble Says:

    Well, you just had to write a post about a topic very close to my heart, didn’t you? I apologise in advance for this long-winded reply.

    First part: Advanced child readers

    I’ve been reading since I was 2. Most adults don’t know what to do with kids like me. The general assumption is that if you know the big words you have an adult maturity capable of dealing with hard themes. In my advanced reading courses I was exposed to books like Sophie’s Choice (which I read at 11) , An American Tragedy(read at 10) and Hitler: A Study In Tyranny (read at 11). That is NOT healthy. But what are you gonna do? Most material with age-appropriate themes are too boring for kids reading above their age level. My parents did the best they could with talking me through the things I read.

    Second Part: The dearth of depressing literature

    I’m on record repeatedly decrying depressing “literature” and advancing more populist fiction for this very reason. It’s part of why I’m so enthusiastic about Harry Potter, The Stand, and a lot of other “non-literary” works. Most of the 20th century attitude toward literature was largely reactionary. The popular works of the Victorian era were feel-good books (Austen’s drawing room dramas, Brontes’ romances) fanciful tales (Lewis Carroll’s Alice books) serialised “soap opera” books (Dickens) and highly romantic poetry (Tennyson). In the absence of television, fictional writing was the main escapist entertainment for the public.

    The 20th Century novelists reacted to that with an overearnestness–thank you, Ezra Pound, Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Once radio (and, later, television) became the mass entertainment the attitude toward written fiction became progressively snobbish. “Good” books are the ones with Serious Themes dealing with the Gravity Of The Human Condition.

    And since everyone agreed that these ponderous works were “good books”, that’s what got assigned in schools from about 1965 onward.

    And people in my business wonder why “no one” reads anymore!

    Fortunately–and thanks largely to Harry Potter and the Scholastic Revolution–there are some less grim titles on current reading lists for teens. Hopefully things will look up, but I’m not holding my breath.

    In the meantime, try steering Zaphod to
    a) Victorian lit
    b) Science Fiction
    and let him know that if a book is depressing it’s okay to put it down.

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