Thursday, May 27, 2010

Bad Words

Yesterday I received the June issue of The Friend magazine. Yes, I still subscribe to this children’s magazine. I like it. Plus, I want to see if they’ll ever print the story I sold to them. Anyway, the monthly “Trying to be like Jesus” section of the magazine includes short anecdotes from children who have done something good. The stories usually include stuff like being nice to a sibling, helping someone with chores, saying hi to a loner, etc., and they’re pretty cute. This month (June) I read the following:

“One day at school I was reading a book from the school library. I had a bad feeling because there were some bad words in the book. During recess I went to the library and told the librarian. She reported it to the headmaster. They took all the copies of the book out of the library. I felt good because I chose the right.”

Isn’t that just fantastic? I wonder what the book was. Was it Harry Potter? That has some bad words in it. Or Huckleberry Finn? That does too, though it’s probably too advanced for her age group. Or maybe Bridge to Terabithia? James and the Giant Peach? The Great Gilly Hopkins? How to Eat Fried Worms? The Catcher in the Rye? Ok, if it were my elementary school and they had Catcher in the Rye, I would probably pull that from the shelf too. :o)

I’m not saying I like bad words. I don’t. In fact, if you look through any of the books I own, you will find that most of them have black lines and written-in revisions where the swear words used to be (though sometimes I just revise books because the writing is terrible). But removing books from the library? There are certain books I have not started or finished because I didn’t want to deal with the language or subject matter. But in that case I just put the book back on the shelf and moved on. I could understand maybe marking a book cover with a warning label, if the community or area requires such a precaution, but removing a book entirely?

I think it’s not so much the story but the underlying philosophy that upsets me. Carried to other areas of one’s life, what does this mean? If someone says a bad word, should we rat on them and have them reprimanded? What if it’s our teacher or boss that is swearing, then what? If a person does not live according to the standards we uphold, does that mean we shun them and banish them, remove them from our lives? What if that person is your brother? If your friend orders coffee to go with her donut, do you turn your head every time she takes a sip?

I know we’re told to avoid the very appearance of evil, but we’re also told to seek after anything virtuous, lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring instigated riots when it was first performed, but I would say that it is worthy of praise. Does the fact that it has to do with a human sacrifice mean we should never listen to or perform it? And what about the Bible? That’s not exactly without violence, sex, scandal, or swear words.

Don’t get me wrong: we need to teach our children to judge good and evil, and we need to provide them with age-appropriate reading materials. But if something comes up, like a bad word, wouldn’t it be better to teach them how to deal with it, rather than just make it disappear? Eventually, they’re going to have to face problems they can’t just ignore, things they can’t just make go away. Then what will they do?

Actually, now that I think about it, I would want my daughter to do the same thing she did. I would want my daughter to come tell me about the bad words in the book she's reading. But my solution wouldn't be to take the book away and get rid of it (most likely). I would just give her a black gel pen and tell her to have fun.


Schmath said...

You're funny. I made my class read Anne frank once, but I didn't read it first. So when they got to a part they were uncomfortable with, they freaked out, and I got notes from parents asking if they could read something else. I wish their parents had given them black pens instead. I think those kids were old enough to deal with it. They were just really sheltered. But had I read it first, I would have just had them skip that part.

Heather Dixon said...

Today I found a book at the library that had a bad word, so I told the Librarian. She and the principle lit a bonfire outside and we burned all copies of the book. I have a happy feeling inside. I'm glad I chose the right.

Hee hee. What was the story you sold to the friend about?

Betty Edit said...

Ironically, the story I sold was about... a bad word! Seriously. It was about when I was in 2nd grade and I wrote a really bad word on the wall and then I erased it. Ooooo... such a rebel, I know.

Heather, your comment made me laugh out loud.