Monday, December 03, 2007

Shielding Kids from the Real World

Bobbie Bubbles by E. Hugh Sherwood and Maud Budlong
I try to make my three kids savvy enough to judge any idea or expression by themselves...and to love learning life long. This is not a universal attitude in Massachusetts or this country.

There are newspapers, TV and many other MSM and other sources of news. Even more available and intrusive can be acquaintances, items on the internet, and events we witness.

Short of blinders and bubbles — and isolated fundamentalist religious schools — it is madness to suppose you can shield your children from even local reality.

As my beloved Greek professor Ruby Ott commented one day, she would never open a Reader's Digest condensed book. As she put it, "I don't want people chewing my food before I do." Yet, to me that certainly appears to be what the desperate parents who would shield their kids from ideas are about.

Clearly, this is a sweeping-the-sand off the beach effort. Yet the range of book selectors, book banners, book bowdlerizers and flat out censors seem to want to do. Some ideas seem too powerful and too destructive for their kids to know. How very sad.

Their oft repeated argument is that children at 6 or 12 or even 18 are too impressionable even to be exposed to various ideas or expressions of ideas. We likely can all agree that hard-core drug lit and S&M pix are not kids' library fare. On the other hand, the asininity of conflating those with mentions of civil unions or same-sex marriage, which are legal in many places, is unrealistic at best. Even worse is when someone wants to determine for everyone what books can be on library shelves and what topics all can hear, or not, in schools.

Another aspect is the two-angled volley of parental responsibility. The bibliophobics hold that they are being responsible parents by trying to control what books their children see in schools or libraries and what ideas they hear. Folks like me, and likely most progressives and libertarians, can find it the basest abrogation of parental responsibility for mom and dad not to prepare their kids to evaluate, assimilate or reject the many thousands of ideas they will read and hear. The world is too much with us to do otherwise.

I don't want my kids to be stunned into stupid thoughts or actions if confronted with realities they should have know about a decade or more before they confront them. Regardless of our protective fantasies, life not only goes on, but it comes to the door, into our ears, and before our eyes.

I wonder what happens to a child in an artificial book bubble when reality appears. Are they terrified, delighted, confused?

The analogy to obsession with germs leaps to mind. Sensible protection can easily become neurosis or worse, particularly when couple with the need to control. As with so many of these seemingly political arguments, the underlying issue of who's in charge brooks no compromise.

A future post or two will deal with public-library issues in Massachusetts, Wisconsin and elsewhere. The triggers for this were there heroic stance of a librarian and her board, and comments related to it.

The comments relate to an organization that believes its members have the right and the duty to control what books are available, particularly for kids. Researching this let into a netherworld of such groups. There positions are like those of MassResistance and the Mad Dad. Those of us who strongly advocate free thought and free speech don't appear to have any middle ground with these folk.

You say shield. I say bubble.

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