Ignorance is Strength
Posted on December 10th, 2014
I was on two local homeschool email loops. I hate using “loop” for what was a “listserv,” but loop it is now. I can cope with it; vocabulary changes. However, “I could care less” instead of “I couldn’t care less” will always make me think less of the speaker. Sorry.
One such loop erupted with minor controversy about which books homeschool parents refuse to let their children read.
One woman spoke up about the wicked and vile 1984, Grapes of Wrath, and Candide. She hadn’t actually read them, but she got together with someone else and they started making a list and she wanted to know what other objectionable material should be added to the list.
At this point I thought of a lot of words I haven’t taught my daughter yet. The word I’ll run with is “doubleplusungood,” which is not a word according to the OED (I just checked) but should be. Or rather, it shouldn’t be, but that requires a reading of 1984.
Somewhere in a box, I have this record on vinyl. But I digress.
What is so objectionable about these books? The depictions of violence? The disturbing realization for children that these awful situations are really the world we inhabit, whether it’s allegorically or realistically portrayed? That this is not, perhaps, the best of all possible worlds? Because they’re eye-openers?
They’re too sexy.
They’re too sexy for this mother (who has never read them) to put into the hands of her son. Which turns this into “Lady, you are really uptight” to “Lady, you are really uptight and that is really creepy and trust me when I say, from my law practice, that I know creepy when I see it.” (Thanks, Justice Stewart.)
1984 I can’t object to. IMHO it’s not the best thing Orwell ever wrote, but if you’re reading it for the sex, well, you’ll be disappointed. There is sex in it, but–irony!–Big Brother? Also not keen on sex for fun! I can think of a dozen reasons why a closed-minded type might not like this book, but I wouldn’t have put sex on it.
The Grapes of Wrath I read, like I think every student in the California school system must have, at some point. Eye-opening. Not great pornography.
Candide? I just…sigh. If you’re looking for Voltaire and sexy times, this isn’t the book. Also, it was made into a terrible opera and while centuries removed, I do hold it against the book. But you can’t actually use the phrase “the best of all possible worlds” with any sort of irony unless you’ve read Candide. Or “Panglossian.” Not legitimately, anyway. Again, not something I recall for the sex, just the 20/21st century eye-rollingly absurdity of 18th century satire.
If I were going to put books on a banned list, it would be due to their banality or the vagaries of categorization of books. For example: every great American novelist with a penis in the last fifty years. (Why are we supposed to care about Philip Roth’s prostate gland? Or why is it when Jonathan Franzen writes about a family, it’s literature, but if someone with a vagina does, it’s chick lit?)
But I don’t put books on banned lists, because, well, that’s the sort of shit Nazis did and I have an abhorrence of Nazis. And ignorance. And following anyone’s program of what should and shouldn’t be done (unless it’s lifting your fork before your hostess, because I get very agitated about that, even if I do put my elbows on the table with a disturbing, increasing regularity). My aunt told me that my mother once complained to their mother about how rebellious I was. “But you raised her to be independent,” my grandmother replied. Well, then.
My parents let me read anything and everything I wanted. Things I do not recommend: reading all of Vonnegut in one weekend, or the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich at 11, which took longer than one weekend. (There are a lot of Nazis in this post–maybe it’s the 1984 thing.) My husband just reread it and wanted to talk about minutia and I had to say, “Look, it’s been thirty years for me. Sorry.”
My mother did a lot of poor parenting, but I remember her indignation well when a fifth grade friend and I required permission to go to the adult section of the library. So she took us, and I learned censorship was still a thing and that the right response was to oppose it. She was younger than I am now–and I was born when she was working on her MLS–so her anger was not silently seething.
So if you’re trying to control a teenaged boy’s access to sexual material by limiting the classics you put into his hands (wink, wink), well. Good luck to you. I imagine you have filters on your Internet access he already knows how to disable. Or maybe he has media time? The world’s changed a lot since I was in fifth grade.
I’m not a teenaged boy, but I’ll guess his unholy thoughts won’t be while he’s reading 1984. One of my brothers stole my sister’s issues of Cosmo. So let the boy wank in peace, would you? If you don’t want to know about it, tell him to lock the door. Another brother would forget (I think he was smoking a good deal of weed in the day) and…yeah. It is not the sort of thing that you want to become a running family joke. “FFS, lock the goddamned door!” became our temporary family motto. Heh. It STILL makes me laugh.
So, the loop.
This was an excuse. I’m sure I’m not missed; I’m not sure I ever participated. If I were a better or younger woman, I would have posted all this there before unsubscribing, but I am older and lazier, and I know my words won’t open a closed mind. Only education can do that.
This is the part where my younger self would have screamed, but it just makes me feel tired and sad. Education. The reason I’m homeschooling my daughter is to give her a broad education outside the math/reading comp cram sessions public schools have become. The reason many other people homeschool is so their kids aren’t exposed to the horrible secular world and so they can include religious studies.
I know there are others like me (not religious, pro-science, open-minded), but the reality was every time the digest came in, it made me realize–anew–I haven’t found them yet.
Part of the problem is I don’t want to be in any sort of homeschool tribe, that this was not my plan, even as I am amazed at how quickly pH can learn under the right circumstances and how much music and science and art she can be absorb/be exposed to/recall afterward.
Yes. Including paintings of naked people in galleries–as I’ve had to answer some interesting questions. Or her Tuileries exhibit question re: Louis XIV: “Was he a good man?” and my incredibly long, “Uhhhhhh….That is such a complicated question I don’t know where to go with it. Let’s say it depends on who you’re talking to. Look at these statutes! They’re, um, Daphne and Apollo.” I facepalmed. “What are they doing?” “They’re racing.” “Why?” “Why do you race?”
I live to entertain docents. By the way, the only real answer to an art gallery question is “What do you think?” If I start to say anything else, I’ve made a mistake. Her explanations are better than mine.
So I haven’t found a listserv–sorry, loop–home yet.
And then there is my introversion, the part of me that is perfectly happy to stay home and read and write and email, which is completely at odds with the part of me that knows we have to go to lessons and physical activities and classes with other children.
And so I grit my teeth and I do. List-lessly.