Monday, April 16, 2012

At Least They're Reading

I will make no secret of a sad fact with the Hunger Games.  I am not a fan.

My dislike for the franchise is based entirely on my reaction to the movie and I've been told time and time again that I'll change my tune as soon as I read the book.  Maybe.  But I doubt that will change my general dislike for the premise, or the major plot points.  As I understand the same characters (for the most part) live and die in both the movie and the book and those facts are part of my general concern.

Now for the three of you still reading, let me really drill down on my concern: what I really dislike is the general attitude of many people in relation to whether or not kids should be reading the book in the first place.  It's the same attitude that came up when Twilight was all rage among teens and tweens.  It seems that every so often something else comes out and I, rapidly approaching the age where I sit on my front porch so I can yell at the kids to get off my lawn, find myself a fairly lone voice in saying "You're letting children read ~that~?"

To which the answer comes:

"Well at least they're reading."

I have grown to hate that phrase.  I consider it on par with "You're too good a friend to date" and "No offense but..."  It's intellectually dishonest at the least, and an outright lie at the worst.

Let's take that statement to it's logical extreme.  As long as a child, and I'm confining myself strictly to the discussion of children under the age of 16 here, is reading, so the phrase implies, then it is a good thing.  The very ~what~ of what they read is irrelevant as long as they are engaging in the print media.  Now far be it for me to besmirch books; as an aspiring novelist it does me no good to point out that books are hardly the only form of quality story telling out there.

However, it also implies that The Story of O, or Fifty Shades of Grey are just as good reading for a 12 year old girl as would be Black Beauty or any of the Babysitters Club.  I mean, as long as she's reading, why should we care what she's reading?  Why not sit her down with a nice copy of World War Z?  If I find that Xander is slow to want to read, maybe I need to offer him a gateway first.  Since the actual content doesn't matter I'm sure I can find something that will make an nice CPS officer want to take him away.  But that's okay because I can always just say "Well, at least he's reading."

What I've grown to hate is that the phrase removes any room for discussion about what is or is not appropriate.    If I say "I don't think that book has themes that she can handle", that objection is nullified by the fact that the act of reading is inherently better than not reading.  And I can't agree with that.

There are things that children aren't able to evaluate clearly.  They lack the life experiences to evaluate an action as good or bad.  They lack the cognitive ability, often, to see cause and effect the way that an adult in their 20's does.  They haven't had a chance to experience enough of the bad to appreciate the good.  And all too often they lack the general maturity of thought to discuss these issues rationally.

Perhaps my experiences are anomalous, but when I've talked to teens about Twilight, I've found it rare that they are able to really analyze the nature of the Bella/Edward relationship.  I'm not, myself, opposed to any choices adults make in their relationships. I do think that for adults there is a certain glamor to the Alpha Hero that Edward is intended to represent.  "Do what I say because I love you and I know what you need." That's a fairly popular trope in adult romance.

But as a father I am concerned with my daughter growing up to believe that such is the only kind of relationship.  Or worse I'm concerned that she may encounter a young man along the way who not only applies that logic, but does so in ways she doesn't want.  Down that road can lie abuse, at the least.

I don't mean to beat up on Twilight at large.  I know for many of my women friends it is a fantastic guilty pleasure.  I know for many of my women friends it's not even a guilty pleasure; they love it and they're proud to love it.

I think that when I say "I don't like to see my students reading X because I think it teaches them Y which they're not ready for", I'd much prefer to hear back "that's not your call" or "their parents think otherwise," or even "meh, you don't know what book X teaches".

But can we please dispense with "At least they're reading"?  We all know that's not true.


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