Recently, I was camped out in a Barnes and Noble Café (I know, very corporate, but it’s what’s nearby) doing some work for the upcoming school year. Shortly after I sat down, a kid came up to a woman who’d been talking (rather loudly) on her cellphone. He was carrying a stack of books. This, I gathered, was his required reading for the year.
She picked up the books and started scanning through them. She was, I could tell, looking for anything she deemed inappropriate. “I’m not worried about this one.” ‘This one has some profanity.” “This one says ‘ass.’” I don’t know how she would have reacted if she’d known a high school English teacher was about eight feet away (she probably wouldn’t have cared), but my reaction was somewhere between contempt and resignation. I know parents do exactly this all the time. And it is exactly the wrong way to figure out what your child is reading.
When I was first typing this I used the word “screen” in the title instead of preview. I changed it because here’s how much screening parents should do: None. That is, if a teacher assigns a book, trust the teacher. You may think it’s too mature for your child. You also have probably forgotten what a high school hallway is like. You may think the book is counter to your values. To that, I say, “so what?” And I don’t say that lightly.
First, consider that we teachers are mostly very qualified for our jobs and we are not giving kids crap to read. I’ve read a lot of literature and I’ve studied a lot of literature. I know what I’m talking about. I have reasons for assigning books and if you ask me I’ll tell you.*
Second, your children are going to have their values questioned by people, books, movies, music. Everything. If those values don’t stand up to challenging, it’s not the fault of the challengers. Equip your children with the ability to think critically and talk to them about what they are reading, but don’t ban them from reading something. Banning books never works.
So what should you do before your kids start reading about grown up things in school? Use the internet. Find articles and reviews and analyses on the books your children have been assigned. You might even – gasp – consider reading the books as the kids read them. If there’s something in the book that troubles you, talk to them about it. But please don’t tell them they shouldn’t be reading it and please don’t judge the book by a sex scene or a swear word.
So many parents think being involved in a child’s education means keeping up with their grades, but it’s much more important to be aware of what your child is learning. Take an interest. Have discussions. They’ll learn more, they’ll respect you, and you won’t have to worry about the grades.