I was at a school event and people were talking about the eighth grade reading list. There was some discussion about a book on the reading list that made reference to sex and suicide. This of course started me on the path to thinking about what is or is not appropriate for eighth graders to read. I will admit, before going further, that Cocaine Zombies is not for young children.
The class is an eighth grade honors reading class. I suspect that most of the students read at an adult level. Thus, there may be some practical problem of finding books at that reading level that don’t reference to sex. I can think of books that would work. There are many books written in Victorian times that don’t have sex in them. Dracula, although sexually suggestive, does not have sex in it. Wuthering Heights is a love story but doesn’t have sex in it. These books may be classics but are probably not going to get most eighth graders excited about reading. I assume the object of an eighth grade reading class is to encourage children to become life long readers. Not an easy task given the hundreds of television channels, the internet and so many choices in video-games. I don’t know if this is an indication of lack of success but the Borders in our town is now a liquor store.
Maybe I gave up around the same time a gave my son an X-Box but I am not sure we can reasonably shield our children from sex and violence. Sex is a huge motivator in life and in literature. A character in a book is often motivated by sex even if she never engages in sex. A character may be conflicted about sexual feelings even if he does not engage in sex.
An eighth grader is hopefully not engaging in a sexual relationship. That being said that does not stop them from being motivated by sexual feelings. Certainly it does not stop an eighth grader from thinking about sex. After all we are surrounded by sexual images in our movies, advertisements and literature. Not to mention, they are teenagers, it is what they think about. It would be like yelling at a fish for thinking about night crawlers. So as far as sex is concerned I don’t see the benefit of banning books that make reference to it in school.
In addition it might be a good way for students to be reminded of and to reenforce what they have learned in their sex education class. It is also a good time for parents to reenforce what their values are concerning sexual activity. Children grow up too fast. Yet, unless we intend to follow them twenty-four hours a day the best we can hope for is to teach them what is right. Sadly it seems there are sometimes pregnant eighth graders in our schools. Yet, I suspect most are not in honors reading. I also suspect that they didn’t decide to engage in sexual activity after reading a book on the eighth grade reading list.
As for suicide tragically it does happen even when children are young. Sometimes, a child who feels unpopular or different sees no end to these feelings. That child may feel sad, unloved and even suicidal. Yet, if they held on until high school or college they would discover they have a lot to live for. A teacher or parent would have that insight. A child might simply need an adult to assure them things get better. I think that this might be an appropriate topic to talk about in reading class. Isn’t that the lesson in Romeo and Juliet? Isn’t the moral of that play that suicide is a tragic waste. Would I bar a child from Shakespeare?
I am not an expert on the subject matter. I am neither a psychologist or a teacher. Take my ramblings for what they are. If you disagree feel free to post a comment. I have always taken the position if you love your children they will turn out alright. Maybe that is just wishful thinking.