When a few random people can no longer tell the difference between “Dante’s Inferno,” on the one hand, and some memoirs of substance abuse, depression and rape, on the other hand, it is mildly disheartening, but not all that surprising.
However, when an entire educational system, which should certainly know better, loses the ability to differentiate between the two, it is downright depressing.
That was the first thing that surprised me about the use of “The Glass Castle” as AP literature in our high school. I noticed it after a few parents questioned the age-appropriateness of the book. They were answered with comments that implied, were we to remove rape memoirs from the curriculum, we’d also have to remove the work of Dante.
Such an assumption of equivalence leaves me… well… mystified.
However, there was a second thing that I noticed amidst the disagreement, and which I found even more alarming, because while the first surprise represented an act of violence against literature (which I’m very fond of), the second represented an act of violence against the human condition (which I happen to be even more fond of), and particularly the condition of the human child.
Since the second form of violence was the more important one, I’ll address it now and leave my offended literary sensibilities for another time.
Along with other various silly insinuations directed at those who questioned the book, one was that they were “over-shielding” their children. When the phrase “shielding children” somehow takes on a negative connotation in any social dialogue, it might be time to question our view of childhood as such, and to ask ourselves how their “shielding” ever came to be a bad thing.
Realistically, it seems to me that there is no such thing as “shielding” children. There are only two things: parenting, and not parenting.
In my memory, I have never heard an accusation of “shielding” directed at a parent for any other reason than that they were simply parenting; and so I am forced to draw the conclusion that those firing the anti-parenting invective must not be very much in favor of that age-old profession.
There is also the fact that, if everyone admitted the claims of inappropriateness were valid, then everyone would be obligated to begin “shielding” their children also, and that would be terribly inconvenient.
I suppose, however, that such conclusions would not be entirely accurate. What those firing the invective probably mean to say is that the “shielders” are somehow shirking their parental duties, keeping their children harmfully ignorant of certain life realities, which are presumably necessary for proper social function.
The problem lies in a failure to distinguish between the awareness or “knowledge” of evil, and the actual experience of evil.
This is quite a profound distinction. It is one thing to take into account a child’s unique emotional inclinations, combined with their personal level of maturity, and on that basis explain to them that certain evils exist in the world. It is another thing entirely to bring all children, regardless of individual consideration, so close to such an event, through detailed literary description, as to imbibe acts of sexual violence permanently onto their personalities.
Needless to say, forcing a child to actively engage their unbelievably powerful imaginations in the construction of such horrific scenes of violence (which is exactly what such books ask of the reader) is to carry out an act of violence against the child, regardless of how subtle and undetectable that violence actually seems to be.
This goes quite far beyond “giving kids necessary knowledge to live in the world.” This forced imaginative activity actually infringes on a basic human right, which an insightful man named Alexander Solzhenitsyn called the “right not to know.” He said that human beings had a right “not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense, and vain talk.”—I guess he forgot to include “rape memoirs” on the list.
The excuse that “kids are going to be exposed it someday, so we may as well expose them to it now” is a logical absurdity. This is like saying that, since soldiers really do kill people, that we not only need to make children aware of the fact, but we also need to show it to them up close and in graphic detail.
It is like saying that, since house-fires do indeed happen, then it must be noble and beneficial to throw children into the burning building without so much as a cup of water to fight the fire.
This “trial by fire” seems to be the modern norm for “life training,” as if no other way could possibly be conceived.
Parents who “shield” are simply parents who have made the scandalous discovery that, if you must send your child into the burning building of life, they tend to fair much better if you give them a cup of water and some training before you send them in. They call it “parenting.” And apparently that is an innovation.
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