I’m going to try kinda hard here to be open-minded, but I’ve a distinct fear that what I’m about to say is going to come off as intolerant and judgey. So let me just preface everything by saying that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. They are free, because they live in an incredible country, to believe and to speak and to worship (or not worship) as they see fit. Even when they’re wrong. They GET to be wrong. Because they’re Canadian.
I was at a teachers’ conference for teachers from a particular religious denomination. They wanted me to talk about the organisation I work for, and they wanted a display of books. So I did that for them. Knowing these were faith-based educators, I focussed the display on books I thought were…for the most part…’tame’. I took all of our religious-themed books, and none of our more challenging titles. Challenging in terms of theme, language, sex, etc.. I thought I’d done a fairly good job.
I also knew that the majority of these teachers focussed on the elementary and middle school level, so I took several titles appealing to and directed at that age group.
And don’t get me wrong; I’ve had discussions with teachers in the public school system that are similar to the discussions I had with some of the teachers at this event. It just…it left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
First was the woman who picked up one of the books, asked me what it was about, then asked me how it ended. “He questions his faith and returns to it,” I answered. “It’s a book about returning; about coming home.” She opened the book and gasped.
“It says ‘Goddamn’!” she said, glaring at me accusingly. As if I’d written the book. If I *had* written the book, that’d probably be the LEAST of the terms to make her blush, but whatever.
“Yes,” I said.
“Does it do that a lot?” she asked, bending the cover into a cylinder as she paged through it.
“I won’t lie to you and tell you there is just the one occurrence of cursing in that book,” I replied. “To be honest, it’s been a while since I read it, so I don’t remember, exactly. I didn’t count the curses in the story.”
“Oh,” she said. “Oh. That’s too bad.” She put the book back down on the table. “If I’m reading it, I can censor it, but I can’t do that if one of my kids wants to read it, so…”
Another woman was looking at a juvenile fiction title. The woman gasped and said, “Oh, you can’t buy THAT one. I looked at that one, and…well…it’s just not…it’s not *safe*, according to the guidelines!”
(insert weird sci-fi/Twilight Zone music here, while cenobyte wonders if maybe she’s been transported to some horrible place where there are guidelines as to what’s acceptable reading material)
The other teacher looked at the book more closely. The Gaspey said, “Yeah, it’s about this…well…there’s time travel in it. A girl does something and travels back in time. That’s just too mystical for me. It’s not safe. I can’t do it. I just…” Gaspey starts to sweat. It looks like she might start crying. She fans herself with her program. “Oh. Oh. It’s no good…”
I begin to wonder why she’s looking at ANY of the books. She points to one by my elbow. “What’s that one?” she asks. “Have you read it?”
“Yes,” I say. “It’s poetry by a local writer. It’s an incredible book, but it’s not appropriate for grade school.”
“Swearing?” she says.
“Er. Not theme-appropriate, I should think,” I answered, tempted to show her the passage that went on at, if you will, length, about the size of the narrator’s ‘horse-sized wang’ and how he’d like to ‘fuck everything that moves’. Then I just put the book down. I did not show her that passage.
She picked up another one. “What about this one? What age group is this appropriate for?”
I sighed. “It’s really difficult for me to judge that,” I answered. “I am of the opinion that anyone of any age should be free to read whatever they want. However, on a skill level, I’d say probably junior high school. Theme-wise, there are some issues in that book with the narrator being angry, violent, and anti-social. These are themes teenagers deal with every day, but I’m really not sure what you would be comfortable with.”
She glanced at me. “I appreciate your honesty,” she said.
I just felt weary. Sad. The book she’d kaiboshed because it had **DANGER! DANGER!!** time travel **DANGER!! DANGER!!** in it is a wonderfully written adventure story that’s well-crafted and historical. I know kids really like the time travel stuff. I really liked time travel stuff when I was a kid, although I can tell you that reading it probably cursed my soul to forever wander the shores of Sheol, stumbling inevitably into the seventh level of hell, which is reserved for rapists and people who read time-travel novels. Because of those time travel novels that I read, I immediately ceased believing in God, and chose instead to believe that if I threw my hairbrush into the air at just the right angle, I would be transported mystically into a time when GOD DIDN’T EXIST. Because that’s what fiction is about, right? Denying God?
I mean, okay, let’s just take a step back here and think about things. Let’s look at religious texts. By and large, and I realise this makes me Wrong in the eyes of many involved in the religious tradition I’ve chosen to align myself with, but by and large, I think it’s safe to say that religious texts are huge, hulking, brooding works of fiction. Allegory, even. But still fiction. They’re shaped myths. So…by denying a child the privilege (I argue the *right*) to read a different kind of myth, what’re you saying about your own mythology to other people? You’re saying it’s dangerous. And maybe it is. Maybe it *absolutely is* dangerous to deny children (hell, to deny ANYONE) any other stories but the ones where absolutely nothing of interest happens. I’ve half a mind to send an entire palette-load of Johnathan Franzen books to these religious schools. (If you haven’t read any Johnathan Franzen novels, nothing ever happens in them, so you might as well just hit yourself in the head with a mallet rather than spend the time reading one.)
Now I’ve nothing wrong with religious education. Nothing at all! If you want your children schooled by religious institutions, more power to you. As long as they learn how to read and write and think, I don’t care whether Jesus, Buddha, and all the incarnations of Shiva hang out at the school to help them along. I don’t agree that letting them read whatever they want is dangerous, but hey; I’m sure you don’t agree that I refuse to let my kids make a decision about their own religious beliefs until they’re grown-ups. So, let’s just say we’re even on that one.
Thing Two: One of the presenters at this conference was going all hot under the collar about “post-modernism”. I don’t know if his understanding is the same as my understanding of post-modernism. Okay, that’s unfair. He was using “post-modernism” synonymously with “evolutionism”. I mean, I can see how if you believe in evolution, you’re denying the certainty of a created world, and so that belief could be *loosely* defined as a post-modernist point of view, but…wow. I mean…how narrow an aperture do you *really* need? I mean, why not just say “we should *only*be teaching creationism in our faith-based schools” rather than muck it all up by saying that “post-modernist creationism is dangerous”. (“Post-modernist creationism” meaning, near as I could glean, the point of view that since you can’t prove anything or disprove anything for sure, why not just agree that it’s possible that even though the facts are mucked up, as proved by science, it’s possible that it’s possible that at some point, a Creator created life. Kind of a more culturally-based creationism…kinda.)
Anyway, so after this discussion, I wasn’t really all that surprised that some of the teachers were very, VERY reserved in what they were willing to let their students read in class. Some of them weren’t. I mean, some of them picked up a number of books. Unfortunately, none of them picked up the most exciting books….the ones that kids especially would find fascinating. The ones where stuff happened. I wasn’t surprised, but I was disappointed.
The afternoon’s discussion was about sending money and books to northern Afghanistan so that the children there could learn to read and write. Not religious books either, just…books. I guess it doesn’t matter what the faraway foreign kids read, because if they read about time travel, it won’t jeopardise their souls. Their souls are *already* jeopardised because they don’t have pictures of Jesus in their hovels.
Speaking of which, the *best* thing that happened at that conference is pasted below:
This is the screensaver that the projector was …erm…projecting. This is the cleanest shot I could get of it with my phone. It had me giggling the whole time it was up there. In case you can’t tell, it’s a very Glorious Jesus, all sparkly and shit up in the post-storm sunset clouds, looking beatific and very much like Mel Gibson, ringed by all kinds of haloes and Sunbursts of God and stuff. It’s the sort of stuff you see coming through Value Village, glued to a big hunk of wood and framed in gilt. Something that was probably hung in somebody’s grandmother’s bedroom.
ANYWAY. What you *can’t* see …well… you can *see* it…the little black bar just underneath Jesus’ feet? It’s not the Holy Plinth of The Divine Clouds of Christ; it’s the message bar from the projector.
Know what it says?
It says “Searching for Signal”.
Had me in stitches.