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    / nonsequitur's Avatar
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    Default Criticism of 'dangerous' school text ignores literature's role in learning

    Criticism of 'dangerous' school text ignores literature's role in learning
    Michelle Smith
    February 18, 2011
    What better place to discuss tough issues than in a class with a teacher and peers?

    A CONCERNED parent waves a volume of Graham Greene's short stories in the air at an emergency meeting. She cries that the book is the inspiration behind recent vandalism at the school, which included flooding the boys' bathroom. Looking for something to blame, the other parents offer up unanimous applause.

    The offending story, which describes children flooding a house, has driven one of their children to crime. In the film Donnie Darko, there are actually complex reasons for the destructive actions of the teen hero, but the parents have little awareness of the issues and instead find an easier target in a story read in English class.

    A recent article about the short-story collection Smithereens, which is being taught in some Victorian schools, sees a work of literature being similarly thrust in the air as a damaging influence on children. The collection of stories is designed for use in high schools to encourage reflection and response to short fiction, and has been in print with Oxford University Press since 1998.

    The concerns raised by a parent at Berwick Secondary College rest on the subject matter of some of the stories, which include murder and suicide. Suicide has been highlighted because of fears it might be a trigger or suggestion that pushes teens towards ending their own lives.

    The story about the suicide is accompanied by an exercise in which students are asked to imagine themselves in the situation of the protagonist and write a note to the character's parents and friend. This has been hyperbolised to a request to have teens "write practice suicide notes" in the classroom.

    Children's literature is marked out for scrutiny by well-meaning parents, while children and teens themselves are immersed in a broader culture of violence and abuse. The school English curriculum needs to be viewed alongside the media and culture that most teens engage with regularly without adult mediation, such as violent games and films. Similarly, if teens view the news they will know of the prevalence of armed conflict, murder, rape, assault and drug abuse in our world. Indeed, many will have experience of family violence or addiction within their home. We live in a world in which these threats are real to children, and yet we feel outraged by the contents of a fictional story about suicide, as if the story is the dangerous thing.

    If we think of childhood as a period of innocence, it does seem confronting that murder and suicide are discussed in the classroom. Never mind that we've all been exposed to such shocking plot developments if we've ever lumbered through Shakespeare in high school. But if we remember that teens are already aware of, and exposed to, the full gamut of problems that adults face, the discussion of a story in the safe setting of a classroom with a teacher and peers may play a vital role in allowing students to talk about issues they may not feel comfortable discussing with their parents.

    Literature exists to expose us to different perspectives, to learn to challenge and critique what we think we know and to reflect on our own lives.

    At times, this means encountering confronting views. For instance, Phillip Gwynne's novel Deadly, Unna?, awarded book of the year by the Children's Book Council, presents a disturbing picture of racism in Australia, which is coupled with sexist attitudes. When psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg calls Deadly, Unna? unsuitable for high-school reading lists, he ignores the expertise of teachers and would destroy the potential for students to analyse the viewpoints presented in the novel.

    Child and, especially, teen readers are not sponges who absorb ideas from fiction without question. Classroom discussion and assessment tasks based on this book would invite students to think about racism and sexism, affording the opportunity to talk about these attitudes in society and informing student's ability to critique them. It would not simply infuse students with sexist attitudes.

    Similarly, the idea that a fictional story about suicide will foster teen suicides ignores the potential of literature to encourage students to think carefully about issues such as depression and self-harm, to be willing to talk about them and to consider their implications.

    Even the critiqued task, in which students are asked to write from the perspective of the troubled protagonist, invites teens to empathise with someone else's problems and consider the repercussions of the character's suicide on family members. As librarian Josh Westbrook has said, "Kids are living stories every day that we wouldn't let them read." In taking away the life-changing possibilities of exposure to challenging ideas in literature in the classroom, we leave students only with the real horrors of the world and offer them one less tool with which they might learn to deal with it.

    Dr Michelle Smith is a researcher in literary studies at the University of Melbourne.
    From: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/soc...217-1ay3z.html

    What do you think? I personally agree with a lot of what's said here, but I'm not a parent and lack the other perspective.

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    @.~*virinaĉo*~.@ Totenkindly's Avatar
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    I don't have time to answer in-depth, but I think the goal here is that adolescents confronted with complex moral issues and life ambiguities is not a BAD thing.

    However, they can't just be thrown in the water and expected to swim, because some will necessarily drown. The freedom of allowing kids to explore these issues means that it is the responsibility of the teachers and parents who have more life experience and overall wisdom/knowledge to leap into the water with them, so to speak, and help them navigate through things. IOW, it's a group effort and demands engagement between the students and adults.

    Kids who have the sounding board of mature adults can work through this things, in general, and learn a lot from examining these sorts of issues.

    My kids have personally had to go through a bunch of crap some other kids have not, but I feel they are very wise and mature for their age because they've had that sort of guidance to help them steer safely through the waters, while giving them as much room to question and explore as they personally needed.
    "Hey Capa -- We're only stardust." ~ "Sunshine"

    “Pleasure to me is wonder—the unexplored, the unexpected, the thing that is hidden and the changeless thing that lurks behind superficial mutability. To trace the remote in the immediate; the eternal in the ephemeral; the past in the present; the infinite in the finite; these are to me the springs of delight and beauty.” ~ H.P. Lovecraft

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    / nonsequitur's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jennifer View Post
    I don't have time to answer in-depth, but I think the goal here is that adolescents confronted with complex moral issues and life ambiguities is not a BAD thing.

    However, they can't just be thrown in the water and expected to swim, because some will necessarily drown. The freedom of allowing kids to explore these issues means that it is the responsibility of the teachers and parents who have more life experience and overall wisdom/knowledge to leap into the water with them, so to speak, and help them navigate through things. IOW, it's a group effort and demands engagement between the students and adults.

    Kids who have the sounding board of mature adults can work through this things, in general, and learn a lot from examining these sorts of issues.

    My kids have personally had to go through a bunch of crap some other kids have not, but I feel they are very wise and mature for their age because they've had that sort of guidance to help them steer safely through the waters, while giving them as much room to question and explore as they personally needed.
    Do you reckon that the reason why many parents object to books with "adult themes" being taught in school is because the parents themselves lack the knowledge and methods to address these themes with their kids? Hence it's easier to write the books off as "age inappropriate"?

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    Senior Member Lateralus's Avatar
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    I don't think I disagree with her position, but I'm not sure. That's a horribly written article. Is that some sort of attempt at stream of consciousness writing?
    "We grow up thinking that beliefs are something to be proud of, but they're really nothing but opinions one refuses to reconsider. Beliefs are easy. The stronger your beliefs are, the less open you are to growth and wisdom, because "strength of belief" is only the intensity with which you resist questioning yourself. As soon as you are proud of a belief, as soon as you think it adds something to who you are, then you've made it a part of your ego."

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    / nonsequitur's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lateralus View Post
    I don't think I disagree with her position, but I'm not sure. That's a horribly written article. Is that some sort of attempt at stream of consciousness writing?
    I think that's what's commonly known as a "column" and is in reference to recent events in Melbourne, Australia. Perhaps that's why it seems out-of-context, if you're not familiar with what has been happening.

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    Senior Member Lateralus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by nonsequitur View Post
    I think that's what's commonly known as a "column" and is in reference to recent events in Melbourne, Australia. Perhaps that's why it seems out-of-context, if you're not familiar with what has been happening.
    I didn't say anything about context. Her train of thought jumps around so much, you have to make assumptions about what she's trying to say. That's why I asked if it was an attempt at stream of consciousness writing.

    Like I said, I don't think that I disagree with her, but it's hard to say exactly what her point is from that jumble of words.
    "We grow up thinking that beliefs are something to be proud of, but they're really nothing but opinions one refuses to reconsider. Beliefs are easy. The stronger your beliefs are, the less open you are to growth and wisdom, because "strength of belief" is only the intensity with which you resist questioning yourself. As soon as you are proud of a belief, as soon as you think it adds something to who you are, then you've made it a part of your ego."

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    Senior Member Survive & Stay Free's Avatar
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    Graham Greene? Poor example when children are being exposed to books such as Junk.

    To be honest children may or may not be "living narratives" which you wouldnt let them lead but as a carer for kids and adolescents I hope that they arent and do the best I can to prevent it, even if you're a strict selfish libertarian and totally support people (often its strangers I find) being "authors of their own destruction" it has consequences beyond the individual most of the time.

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    Senior Member Beargryllz's Avatar
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    Stories are dangerous

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    The Eighth Colour Octarine's Avatar
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    If parents believe there children are not exposed to such 'adult themes' (war, suicide, drug abuse, vanadlism etc) except in literature they read in school? Well they mustn't be living in the same reality as me.

    Quote Originally Posted by nonsequitur View Post
    Do you reckon that the reason why many parents object to books with "adult themes" being taught in school is because the parents themselves lack the knowledge and methods to address these themes with their kids? Hence it's easier to write the books off as "age inappropriate"?
    That's an excellent question.

    And if the parents can't navigate such themes, then who else is there to provide guidance, except for the teachers?

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    nee andante bechimo's Avatar
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    There are two sides to this. I agree with the author if teachers did fit the uniform pattern of being strong communicators and educators, responsible teachers who are well informed and balanced individuals. Where it's dangerous is that not all teachers are created equal. Some are horrible and many are mediocre.

    And yet it's not practical to attempt to shelter kids too much since they're in for a serious shock when they hit the real world. For that matter, consider the content of multimedia. Most of this is garbage.

    And personally, I really hate censorship.

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