Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes
To Censor or Not?
A topic that comes up frequently in a school is about censoring toys and books. At the beginning of the year it was about the Kendama fad. Some teachers wanted them banned from school. Midyear, it was a parent concerned about a particular book that she felt was too “adult” for her sixth grader. Another time, there was concern about references to a death in a book that the upper elementary class was reading.
I empathize with parents wanting to shelter their children from the misery that engulfs our world, and I respect a parent’s right to decide such things. I also believe that there are some subjects that some children may not be ready to discuss. However, as both a parent and an educator, I believe that censorship should rarely be invoked.
I would rather talk about these controversial subjects with my children before the need arises. This does not mean that I played the role of lecturer teaching all about life on some timetable. Neither did I introduce topics that they were not yet ready to consider. Instead, I let the topics arise organically as my children read particular books that they chose or as they listened to songs that were filled with “adult” topics. I let their questions guide our conversations. Sometimes those conversations took place in unlikely places – in the car, walking through a mall, or when reading books together.
I recall driving my youngest son to high school his freshman year and hearing some awful and misogynist lyrics in a song that he was listening to. Rather than shut off the radio, I engaged in a conversation with him about why these lyrics were so terrible. A short time after that morning, he put on a selection of music saying, “Eema, I know these are songs that you will really like.” And I did – he was becoming a more discerning consumer of music and we continued to have deep conversations about the values embedded in popular lyrics.
Rather than censor, I prefer to read questionable books with my children so that I can shape the subsequent conversations. I choose to engage in conversations about terrible things that they may have heard on the news. KJ Dell'Antonia, in her New York Times parenting blog (Motherlode), captured my sentiments so well in her February 4th (2014) entry:
Every time there is a national tragedy or a big anniversary, how we talk to our children about it (or how we shouldn’t) becomes a topic, and the question of how and when to talk with your children about lynchings, racism, the Holocaust, internment camps and the rest of the worst moments of our recent past is a perennial parent dilemma. The “choice of how and when to tell” is a luxury we should appreciate and seize. Why ruin a beautiful day with talk of horrors? Because we’re lucky enough to have the beautiful day to put some distance between our conversation and ourselves.
If you take opportunities to talk to your children about difficult topics when they arise, then when circumstances push those conversations on you, they flow more easily. I would argue that they are also placed in perspective because they are not given inordinate “special” attention. They are part of everyday discourse.
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