Friday, October 18, 2013

On the Topic of Childhood Innocence

Growing up as a gifted child in 1980's coastal Connecticut, I don't really recall my parents explicitly limiting what I watched or read. As a matter of fact, I used to spend my afternoons after school hanging around the public library and youth center utterly unsupervised by either Mom or Dad. And yes, I pulled books from the adult section -- mainly non-fiction books on biology and medicine because that's what I was really into when I was nine, and I was already advanced enough to be bored by The Magic School Bus: Inside the Human Body and Germs Make Me Sick!. Which leads me to some funny stories, for you see, when you read adult books on the human body, you inevitably come across information on sex and reproduction. Consequently, when I finally hit sex ed in the fourth grade, I got a 97% on the pretest. And one time in a drug store, I shocked my parents by pulling some Trojans off the shelf and loudly explaining to my little brother, "I know what these are! These go over the penis to catch the sperm!"


So anyway, did this early exposure to "the birds and the bees" damage me? I don't think so. All of my knowledge was strictly clinical in nature. Nothing I read glorified dangerous and/or immoral sexual acts. Indeed, after absorbing all the information on the full panoply of sexually-transmitted infections, I independently came to the conclusion that sex was Serious Business and not something to be treated casually. Gifted, remember? As a tween and early teen, I played around with a few things in my neighbor's barn, but nothing rose to a level beyond heavy making out.

Reflecting on it now, though, I wonder. I wonder whether Mom and Dad were actually evil geniuses who subtly controlled my environment behind the scenes. And I wonder whether their community was actually helping them in this endeavor. My parents never said "Don't read that!" or "Don't watch that!" Yet I don't remember ever reading or watching something prurient and age-inappropriate. My favorite television show in that period was Square One TV; outside of all the medical books, I also pulled Heinlein's juveniles off Dad's bookshelf. I was a colossal nerd.

This brings me to Cedar Sanderson's recent complaints about the state of YA fiction and the bullies who are trying to tell her she's a censor for questioning the value of books that glorify incest. I sympathize. Our creative class is engaged in a full-on mission to destroy the very idea of a latency period on the wrong-headed belief that our tweens and teens need to learn to "cope" with a world that sucks -- and I have seen how much that has damaged our up-and-coming generation first hand. These are kids who are exposed to everything -- and yet, paradoxically, they are ridiculously sheltered.

If you'll pardon me for a moment, I'm going to go on a Teacher Rant: Teens today have lousy vocabularies. Even with the honors-level students, I find I have to go back several grades in our curricular materials to explain what I feel are extremely basic words. I'm not talking about $5 SAT words like "lachrymose." I'm talking about words like "unbridled". Now, as E. D. Hirsch has observed, measuring a student's vocabulary is a good proxy for measuring their general knowledge base. The implications of this, therefore, are alarming: Our teens, including our very best students, know very little.

My very first instinct as a political conservative and passionate ed-reformer is to blame the public schools -- but over time, I've come to the conclusion that the source of the problem is even larger than that. Our problem is the aforementioned destruction of the latency period. The secure places where I roamed as a kid exploring whatever questions occurred to me are becoming fewer and farther between. Today's kids don't have the same opportunities to freely pursue innocent hobbies and passions because meeting the demands of the "cool" culture takes up too much of their time -- and because parents, unconsciously alarmed by the sudden lack of boundaries, are holding their kids back. I ranged around the public library learning about the structure of the heart and the symptoms of genetic diseases; Matt studied the workings of a super-cell and, in drawing pretend weather maps for fun, learned geography. Kids today, on the other hand, are stuck at home playing video games because their parents are too terrified to let them do anything else. It's no wonder, then, that they don't know a bridle is how a rider controls a horse.

Our current cultural situation brings to mind the following quote from G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy:

We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff's edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased.

The walls, in our case, are the hidden, mysterious community standards that still protected my brother and me in the 80's. Of course, even back then, the cultural elite had been hammering at said walls for many decades -- but evidently, a small town in Connecticut was still empowered to spackle the damage. Today? Well, a community - or a parent - can try to set off a safe space for their kids, but the media, the publishing establishment, and many librarians are utterly opposed to such endeavors and will level scurrilous charges of bigotry or stupidity at anyone who complains. The goal here is not "tolerance". On the contrary, our elite want nothing less than to impose their standards and worldview on everyone else. It's not "liberalism"; it's totalitarian social engineering.

This insanity needs to stop! Our kids can't afford it. And in my view, the solution is to pursue socially conservative goals through libertarian means. In other words, why don't we try leaving parents and communities alone to do whatever they feel is appropriate? I'm a firm believer in letting San Francisco be San Francisco so long as little towns in the Bible Belt are allowed to be little towns in the Bible Belt. No one is saying you shouldn't be allowed to publish your paean to incest. Just, for the love of God, could you please slap a warning of some sort on that sucker so that parents can make informed decisions? And could you also respect each parent's choice regarding your "masterpiece" no matter what that choice might be? You are not entitled to either an audience or universal public approval.

And by the way, to all concerned parents: If you can't keep your kids out of the schools (something I plan to do once I have kids because I'm a proud control freak bitch), keep an eagle eye on your school board. Hell, if you're feeling brave enough, you should run for the school board. Communities are losing their power in large part because civic engagement on the local level is in serious decline. (Do people get excited over school board elections? Not in my observation -- and that needs to change.) Our first step in wresting control from the hands of the cultural suicide squad is to take back our villages and towns.


To all Human Wavers who may have surfed in: Next week, I'm going to start reviewing your work! On the schedule so far:
  1. Sarah Hoyt's Darkship-verse, Oct. 25.
  2. Cedar Sanderson's Vulcan's Kittens, Nov. 1.
  3. Brad Torgersen's Lights in the Deep, Nov. 8.*
  4. Karina Fabian's DragonEye stories, Nov. 15.
  5. Steve Poling's Finding Time anthology, Nov. 22.
  6. Thanksgiving Break, Nov. 29.
  7. Marjorie F. Baldwin's When Minds Collide, Dec. 6. 
If you want to be added to this list, please leave a comment!

*Brad's not in the Human Wave Facebook group as far as I know, but I believe his work absolutely qualifies as Human Wave. Would you agree?


  1. Thanks for taking the time to expand on what I wrote, Stephanie! I too was one of those kids who read early, often, and copiously. I know I read things that were beyond my comprehension the first time I read them (Jane Eyre comes to mind from a recent conversation) and I know my kids are likely reading - no, I know they are reading books I'd rather they didn'tt. Eldest daughter read Twilight, after all, a book that just made me go "ew" but I didn't tell her she couldn't read it. I don't forbid them to read anything, and have no problem with them venturing into the adult section of the library if I am keeping a half an eye on what they are reading. What I am objecting to is the gratuituously sex-filled and victim-praising books that seem to abound in YA fiction these days. And yes, the simile of Chesterton's is apt…

    And yes, Brad Torgerson is defintely Human Wave! Thanks for including my book in your review list as well.

    1. I've decided that when I have kids, my approach is going to be "free range but vigilant" -- let them pick up whatever appeals to them, but also make damned sure our lines of communication are always open so I can TALK to them about what they're reading and teach them WORLDVIEW AWARENESS. Because it's not so much that I worry about them reading sex scenes. I worry more about what those sex scenes SAY about the proper time and place for the conjugal act.

      As far as the gratuitous sex and victim glorification in YA goes - and I hope I made this perfectly clear in the OP - I think it's entirely valid to question its value. If there are adolescent victims out there - and I'm sure there are - they should be under the care of LICENSED PROFESSIONALS, not hack authors with an ax to grind.

  2. I would certainly care to review your book! Is it available in Kindle format?