Childhood – appropriateness and censorship

What do we let children read? When do we let them read it? I am a regular censor of the materials I let my own child read and particularly watch on T.V. I have done this censoring deliberately to frame the world for my child in the ways I believe will make the world a better place. We don’t watch violent movies and that word ‘violent’ is fairly broadly drawn. On the other hand, I gladly read “Heather has Two Mommies” to my son and “Tango makes Three“. Within my own family, I make my own choices and develop the reading repertoire of my son, my own way. How do I take that to school?

At school, I choose books to read aloud to my students, would I choose “Heather has Two Mommies” or Tango makes Three” or for that matter later “Stitches“? I would include them in my collection if I was choosing, but would I use them in the classroom? I don’t know. I would talk to my principal first and I would analyze my reasons. I do think the same values that I hold up for my son as important are ones which would benefit my students but do I want to open that can of worms? I feel weak in my convictions and I wonder what my division would do if push came to shove. Would I be required to make an apology if I offended parents or community members? I have no idea. I have never made that kind of controversial decision.

Can kids handle it? I believe that they can. In fact, I think my son has a more open understanding now than perhaps he will as a pre-teen. In my unscientific observations, children in Kindergarten and Grade One are more open than students in Grades Three to Eight and then it seems to start to reverse again. Generalizations I know. Right now my son is willing to say that families can have a mom and a dad, a mom, a dad, two moms, two dads, or any other variation on ‘normal’. I don’t know whether that will stick or not.

There are taboos in public education and it certainly affects the literature that we use in school. Spirituality and religion are a big no-no these days. I know I tread carefully around the idea of God and different religions. Students will ask if I go to church. I will say yes. I try to deliberately expand the religious calendar to include less dominant events (in this part of Canada) such as Diwali, Ramadan, Hannukah… I am not very good at it yet. I am not sure how far down the road I can go before it offends someone.

In our neighbouring school division the taboos are different. It is a Catholic division. They have to tow the line on homosexuality, birth control, family structures… I don’t know if I would trade them. We each have to walk around our own eggshells.

Each of the school divisions have had to face some of the challenges brought on by Harry Potter. Can the children handle the books? Do we need to protect them from books with unusual content? At what point do we let the children decide and then simply discuss the content with them. These are certainly questions I will face as a parent and as a teacher. It is easier with my own kids. I am allowed my own bias with my own kids. When my son starts to want to see the films that everyone else is seeing, we will need to make that choice. I remember wanting to see Grease in 1978. I was eight, my sister was ten. The answer was NO. I saw the movie later at about 16. I confirmed their choice. It had not been appropriate for me at eight, I thought. Now I wonder. Would it have harmed me to see the values which would not and still don’t match my own?

How do you choose?  What do we prevent kids from seeing?  Do we need to?

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Filed under children's lit, curriculum, education, free speech, library, literacy, responsibility, social justice

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