Monday, June 26, 2006

Curriculum Highlights for Children

I have a theory about my generation. I think that, to the extent that it exists, a lot of our general fucked-upedness can be traced back to sadistic "children's" books that we were forced to read in school.

I had to read Bridge to Terabithia at least two, and possibly as many as four, years in a row. For the uninitiated, Bridge to Terabithia is about two children who become friends, and then one of them dies. To my mind, for no apparent reason.

Also part of the curriculum was Where the Red Fern Grows. This is a charming tale of a poor young boy who saves up his money to buy two dogs, who become his best friends, until one of them dies in a savage lion attack and the other subsequently dies of a broken heart. I remember sobbing late into the night because of that one. I think I was 11.

Then there was Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, which contained descriptions of lynch mobs and burning people to death.

And who could forget Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, the TRUE story of a little Japanese girl who died of leukemia resulting from exposure to the atomic bombs of World War II.

Now, I understand, and agree, that children need to learn about the sadder, uglier aspects of life, but I am hard pressed to remember even one book from my elementary or junior high school curriculum that didn't deal with death or destruction. Just one. I'm sure there were some, but my memory of them has been completely clouded over by my memories of the many, many, many death books. In my opinion, this quantity of bawl-your-eyes-out sadness in a child's curriculum is totally unnecessary. Not only that, but I remember thinking on some occasions that it seemed like the authors of critically-acclaimed children's works couldn't think of any better way to end the story, so they went for the sensational death of a major character, not unlike the writers of soap operas or television movies. But what did I know--these were famous writers, and I was just a little girl!

Naturally, on my own, I read non-totally-death-oriented classics that were educational and dealt with mature themes, such as Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, or Then Again, Maybe I Won't. Of course, many schools don't want to include these books as part of their curriculum, as they are controversial because they depict preteen and teenage girls getting their periods and teenage boys becoming embarrassed when they get erections in class (not that any junior-high-school-aged boys and girls would be familiar with either phenomenon in real life or anything). But, of course, children dying, vicious, fatal lion attacks, and lynch mobs are considered totally appropriate content. Now, tell me, don't you think that's just a little bit fucked up?

9 Comments:

Anonymous mamatulip said...

Huh. You know, I've never really thought about that, but you're right. I read "Bridge to Terabithia" a long, long time ago and had forgotten all about it until I read this post. Yeah, it was a sad book, wasn't it?

When I was in elementary school I had my nose buried in Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary books (and The Babysitter's Club, *ahem*), but one thing I really remember was a movie they used to show every year at my school called 'The Electric Grandmother'. They'd bring all the students into the gym and we'd watch it on a huge projector. I LOVED that movie, but it always kind of creeped me out, too.

Seems we've both got books on the brain...I blogged about a children's book yesterday.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Tink said...

Omg, RIGHT?! I had to read all of those too, on top of:

The Island Of The Blue Dolphins: An indian girl is left behind on her island after part of her tribe is killed by hunters, part leaves, and she jumps ship to stay with her brother (who later dies).

The Giver: They kill off unsatisfactory babies. Need I say more?

Lord Of The Flies

2:18 PM  
Blogger Brooke said...

Yes I do.

Which is why you can never have enough Judy Blume!

8:02 PM  
Anonymous kate said...

Oh yes....

I still compare much of my life to Margaret, she of the growing out hair, and periods. Wait, those are still two of my biggest issues.

I also used to read Neil Shutes "On the Beach" when I was in six grade. Yeah, thats a good one for a hormonal adolescent to read... End of the world, thanks Sister Alice Anne.

8:11 PM  
Blogger Rock said...

I'm not sure about these books. I grew up with up Dr Suess - "Hop on Pop" "One Fish, Two fish Blue fish something or another". Green Eggs and Ham. they mad you learn how to spell and rhyme - and didn't give you really and moralistic krap. Just funny creatures bouncing around.

2:08 AM  
Blogger wordgirl said...

My kids read all of those books you mentioned...and liked them. One controversial book during my sons' fifth grade year was "My Brother Sam is Dead". It's about the Revolutionary War and a boy whose brother is drawn into it. He dies, of course, and "certain" parents felt that it encouraged their kids to question war. I loved Judy Blume, but while they're in the library, no teacher wants to discuss erections in class.
Rock- You so did no read Dr. Seuss in junior high.

9:10 AM  
Anonymous OddMix said...

I have always believed that the writes of high school/junior highshool lit curriculums were a bunch of sadistic perverts. In addition to all the othe sucky books listed. To wit:

the incident at owl creek (halucination while being hung)
the red badge of courage (cowardice in battle)
the cask of amontilliado (man walled up to die in a dark cellar)
the lady or the tiger (no freaking ending)
the tell tale heart (murderrer haunted by the sound of a beating heart)
east of eden (everyone is evil, depressed, suicidal, or self destructive)
the red pony (pony dies)
all quiet on the western front (main character killed by a sniper ass the cease fire is called)

No wonder I take antidepressants. Think I can sue?

3:26 PM  
Blogger mE said...

Ummm... my kid was assigned 'A Wrinkle In Time' in 4th or 5th grade. Does that count?

I think I read 'Midsummer Night's Dream' in high school, but I think that's about it as far as books/plays where nobody dies.

Well, let's face it, kids pretty much go from ghoulish (grade school) to morbid (high school). Death, especially the dramatic sort, gets their attention.

Is there a teenager who hasn't at some point uttered some variant of 'You'll be sorry when I DIE!!' ?

8:03 PM  
Blogger mE said...

Ummm... my kid was assigned 'A Wrinkle In Time' in 4th or 5th grade. Does that count?

I think I read 'Midsummer Night's Dream' in high school, but I think that's about it as far as books/plays where nobody dies.

Well, let's face it, kids pretty much go from ghoulish (grade school) to morbid (high school). Death, especially the dramatic sort, gets their attention.

Is there a teenager who hasn't at some point uttered some variant of 'You'll be sorry when I DIE!!' ?

8:03 PM  

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