Graeme Whiting, the headmaster for The Acorn School (a private school in the UK) thinks children's minds are being warped by reading modern trash:
Sensationalism is the key for marketing literature in today’s world. Publishers and authors don’t really care who reads what, as long as they achieve high sales figures, and they go to great lengths to create those pictorial covers that hide the sometimes demonic, influential and unacceptable words that may lie within the text. Gone are the classics, and when I asked my wife to write a reading list for the children of my school, many of the books she recommended were hard to find.
I stand for the old-fashioned values of traditional literature, classical poetry, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Dickens and Shakespeare, and the great writers who will still be read in future years by those children whose parents adopt a protective attitude towards ensuring that dark, demonic literature, carefully sprinkled with ideas of magic, of control and of ghostly and frightening stories that will cause the children who read them to seek for ever more sensational things to add to those they have already been exposed to. What then of their subconscious minds? What then of the minds of children whose parents couldn’t give the time to look closely at childhood; the sensitive period of the development of every human being? Where will this addiction to unacceptable literature lead?
I want children to read literature that is conducive to their age and leave those mystical and frightening texts for when they can discern reality, and when they have first learned to love beauty. Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, and Terry Pratchett, to mention only a few of the modern world’s ‘must-haves’, contain deeply insensitive and addictive material which I am certain encourages difficult behaviour in children; yet they can be bought without a special licence, and can damage the sensitive subconscious brains of young children, many of whom may be added to the current statistics of mentally ill young children. For young adults, this literature, when it can be understood for what it is, is the choice of many!
To put it simply, Whiting wants kids to read serious stuff like A Christmas Carol, Queen Mab, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, and Ode to a Nightingale in place of frivolous titles like Lord of the Rings which cause metal degradation, the fits, and other maladies.
Yeah, that doesn't make sense to me, either.
I've never been one to listen to cultural imperialists like Whiting when they champion a classical education or suggest that anyone who reads outside the accepted canon is not a serious reader.
Sure, I would be more interested in his arguments if he had named at least one writer who is not a dead white male (in this context, Shelley refers to the poet, and not his more famous wife). Just one Maya Angelou, Madeleine L'Engle, Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessig, or Jane Austen - any token female author - would dilute his reading list beyond a monoculture of dead white men.
But as it stands, Whiting is advocating for a reading list made up of writers of a single gender from a single country. His reading list offers students a limited selection of viewpoints which excludes 99% of the world's population and 99% of its cultures.
And that's a problem, because without the contrast of other cultures and other viewpoints readers won't be able to recognize the flaws in the culture of Whiting's accepted canon.
To name a personal example, if I had only ever read science fiction I wouldn't have recognized the times when James White, Robert Heinlein, and other SF Greats were jaw-droppingly sexist in their portrayal of female characters (and that's not counting the authors who left women out entirely).
That is the kind of perspective Whiting wants to deny his students.
I may not be the most widely read person, but I have a problem with that.
And so should you.
P.S. If you would like to read more on this topic, Google "dead white guys". Or, here's a reading list:
- Against the "Serious Reader" (BookRiot)
- Literature Is Dead (According to Straight, White Guys, At Least) (The Atlantic)
- The Year I Stopped Reading Men (HuffPost)
image by Jason M Parrish