Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The wrong denominator...

We live in a world today, seems to me, that aims almost everything for the lowest common denominator. Political discourse no longer really exists, instead replaced by a battle of sound bites. Extra profanity and even extra volume are often used as if they alone will guarantee extra laughter. School testing forces teachers to teach so everyone can pass the test, quite often in prescribed ways that forces teaching to the lowest achievers’ level.

Luckily, we’ve got children’s literature.

I am constantly amazed in my library read-alouds just what kids absorb… what they see… what they accept… and how quickly they know when something is false. They see emotions, relationships, and humor at a level far above where they’re usually given credit for. I’m not saying all books need “messages” or any such like that. Not at all. In fact, I think the most popular read-aloud I’ve done has been David Wiesnieski’s The Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups. It is arch, silly, satirical, over the top, and almost appears to be written more for adults than kids. But the kids eat it up (many trying to trick me into giving up the book so they could read ahead), even if they don’t understand every obscure historical reference in it. They get the essence.

As a a writer, that’s a valuable thing to understand. (Whereas for a politician, it’s merely got to be a relief that they’re speaking to adults and not attempting to explain policies to kids who cannot be easily blinded.) As usual in matters like these, someone has already said a variation of what I’m driving at, and said it better. This time it’s Maurice Sendak, in the preface that he wrote for I Dream of Peace: Images of War by Children of Former Yugoslavia.

“The children know. They have always known. But we choose to think otherwise: It hurts to know the children know.…Thus we conspire to keep them from knowing and seeing. And if we insist, then the children, to please us, will make believe they do not know, they do not see.… It is a sad comedy: the children knowing and pretending they don’t know to protect us from knowing they know.”

In short: aim for the highest common denominator, and kids will rise up to meet you. It’s innate in them, and our job as writers, parents, and librarians is to make sure that we show them the respect they deserve.

Hmmm… I blog far more seriously than I expect. Honest… my writing specialty is comedy. Perhaps it’s the late hour. Regardless, I gotta book.


Disco Mermaids said...

I’ve noticed the same thing about blogging. I often start a post thinking it’s going to be a silly topic, but I end up getting serious. Luckily, my two co-bloggers don’t know the meaning of the word ‘serious.’

- Jay

Greg Pincus said...

I'm sure, given time, the "less serious" quotient of the blog will increase. Maybe I need co-bloggers, though let me state unequivocally that I am NOT willing to dress up in order to get them.