Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Required Depressing Reading


A PBC reader alerts us to another article highlighting the bleak, depressing books young folks are being required to take in nowadays for their summer reading.  In some schools, a test on the summer reading counts as 20 percent of the grade.  An excerpt from the article: 

Here are some novels assigned this summer to American sixth-graders, all winners of the highest literary prizes: ‘Walk Two Moons,’ by Sharon Creech, chronicles a daughter’s search for her missing mother, who fled, it turns out, because of a deep depression after a miscarriage and subsequent hysterectomy. At the end, the girl discovers that her mother was killed in a bus accident. In ‘Belle Prater’s Boy,’ by Ruth White, a missing father is found to have died because he shot himself in the face; Belle Prater, the errant mother, is never found, although her son remembers her saying that she’s in a straitjacket: ‘Squeezed to death. I can’t move. I can’t breathe. I have to get out of here.’
What’s going on here?  Coud it be that parents and adults nowadays are so indulgent of themselves and their own needs and wants that they seek to toughen up their offspring so they won’t complain about their lot, having read about the horrible lives of these children in the books?  

The writer does say that the only people who break free in these books are the parents.  The kids, meanwhile, are “guarded, world-weary, overburdened children, who are spending their childhoods trying to cope with the mess their parents have left them.” 

According to the article, “The rationale for exposing 10-year-olds to such potentially upsetting books is that children who read about situations different from their own gain a larger frame of reference for understanding human behavior and cultural diversity. Some educators believe that life is harder than it used to be; books shouldn’t shield children from this. The argument is, as the head of the English department in a school here in Westchester County told parents, that anxiety is useful to children.”   (Emphases added)

The writer suggests that fantasy is better, because it enables children to deal with life issues indirectly.  Perhaps this is why Harry Potter exerted such an appeal.  It was a relief from these kinds of books.


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