Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Who's Giving Your Kid Permission, Part 4 of 5 of a haphazard meditation on something

Last time, I talked a bit about the kinds of permission that books can give.  But what about parental involvement in reading?

There have been many YA books I've read as an adult that I've wished I could have read when I was younger because they would have given me options I wished I'd known I had.  I mean, I was a creative kid, but there are so many ideas out there that people have already had!  There's no need to reinvent the wheel all the time.  I'm no genius, so a lot of wheels never got reinvented.

It's not like when I read a book, I become a slave to its worldview and adopt it unthinkingly.  I test and challenge and work out what the idea implies, what it could mean and means.  I consider the possibilities.  I do this all mostly unconsciously at this point.  It's part of reading.  I can't really say my parents had anything to do with it, though.  They read to us and taught us to love reading as kids, and then they were mostly hands-off as we mowed down stacks of books way above our reading levels. 

When I started reading adult paperbacks (I won't even tell you how sad the library's YA section was because the tears will mess up the keyboard), my mom got a little concerned and forbade me from reading a couple of books based on the titles.  I still haven't read them, though I should have by now because by all reports, they're kind of incredibly amazingly good.  I asked her once about this one book I wasn't sure if I should read, but she was busy and uninterested and didn't read it, so eventually I did, and I was right to think I shouldn't read it, and that gave me the confidence to know that my discernment was quite functional.

Some argue for a totally hands-off approach to what their kids read.  The kids are reading, the theory seems to say.  Just leave them alone and do a secret happy dance in the kitchen that they're reading something voluntarily instead of "setting forest fires out of boredom."

Some argue for strict censorship.  Since this policy ends up being burdensome to parents, they just say no to reading outside of a very narrow list of cannon books approved by people of like minds.  To me, it seems like this approach likely leads to kids who won't be readers or will forever attach guilt to reading, and that seems sad.

I argue for teaching discernment, no matter what your religion or lack thereof.  Teaching kids to think critically and meaningfully engage what they read just seems like a good idea.  I mean, kids are people, and they won't be under parental control forever.  Isn't it better to give them the tools they need to engage the world on their own rather than try to control them, set them loose on an unfamiliar world, and then get angry when they can't navigate its unfamiliar waters?  If you suddenly toss your kid overboard after 18 years of tight-fisted land-dwelling, you can't blame the kid for not being able to tread water or swim to shore. 

There but for the grace of God go I.

Next time, I'll get into the murky territory of what it is the permission in books really means in the real world.  It will be long.  See you then.

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