So I saw through a friend on Facebook an article about a woman in New Mexico getting Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman banned from her daughter’s school. Neverwhere. I know there’s the idea that you haven’t made it until you’ve been banned, but come on. American Gods, maybe… but Neverwhere? At least American Gods has the god of media asking Shadow, “Did you ever want to see Lucy’s tits?”
But for my part, this isn’t the big issue here. The issue is the mother and her take on why having Neverwhere as part of the reading assignments at the school was so bad. This is a direct quote from the article (which was directly quoting the mother demanding the banning)…
“A parent can’t read a 400-page-book to find out if it’s appropriate,” Wilmott said. “You rely on your school to do that for you.”
Let that one sink in for a minute. She feels it is too much to expect a parent to read a 400 page book to find out if it is appropriate for her child. In her mind it is the responsibility of the school to do that. She can’t be bothered.
To give some perspective, when my oldest grandchild was reading the YA books out there, I knew I wanted something better than Twilight for her to read. If you’re a “Twihard” or whatever they’re called, that’s fine. For my part, I wanted my granddaughter to have a more positive female role model to read about. That was how I got into reading Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. Also… zombies. And I’m not even the parent. Though, I am the one that buys the grandkids the books.
In our house we practice All Hallows Read (ironically started by Neil Gaiman), where they get a bag with a “scary” story (geared to their age group) and a chocolate monkey. The woman at the chocolate place one year even asked if I worked at the simian lab on campus. I told her in deadpan, “No, but I do have six grandchildren. They’re kind of like monkeys.” But this practice around Halloween has lead to gifts of The Graveyard Book (again by Gaiman), Zombikins, and My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish. The oldest gets more traditionally scary stories.
Now, while I agree that if the school is putting a book on the curriculum that they need to be responsible for it. Here’s the rub. They’re standards may not be yours. Mrs. Wilmott felt the book was “rated R” in content so not appropriate. After all, her daughter couldn’t get into a rated R movie. But that doesn’t hold up.
I read Christine when I was 11 years old. I read Brave New World, 1984 and Lord of the Flies before I could get in to a rated R movie. I gave my son World War Z to read for a history book report in high school before he was old enough to go to R movies. (I know the movie was PG-13, but this was six years ago and the book is not the movie.) His assignment was to read a fictional book with historical elements. At the signing in Texas, where I had it signed to my son as a gift, Max Brooks was tickled at the idea his book was read for a homework assignment. Or likely that his book would be allowed in the school at all.
If you are a parent, I understand. Work, taking care of the house, raising the kids… it’s all pretty daunting. There are people to ask. Librarians or the booksellers at the local bookstore is a good place to start. Keeping in mind you are asking their opinions. If you are truly that conservative you want your teenage child shielded from anything not viewable on an episode of Dora the Explorer, you might be disappointed in the recommendations. But this is a place to start.
That said, I offer this to Mrs. Wilmott – or any other parent who expects the school, the state, or the television to raise their child – if you can’t be bothered to be involved in the raising of them (including their education), then don’t complain when they learn something you didn’t want them to. Also, consider what hiding things from them as they are supposed to be coming into their own at the cusp of adulthood. What lesson is that teaching them?